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U.N. envoy urges Congo leader to talk to rebel chief
Mon Nov 24, 2008 6:11pm EST
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By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Nigerian former President Olusegun Obasanjo urged Congo's president on Monday to talk with Tutsi rebel leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda to prevent the conflict in eastern Congo from escalating into a new war.
Obasanjo, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special peace envoy for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, spoke to reporters after briefing Ban on his mediation efforts.
He said Nkunda had presented three main demands -- direct talks with the Congolese government, protection of minorities, and integration of his soldiers and administrators in rebel-controlled areas into the Congolese army and government.
"He has made demands that I do not consider outrageous," Obasanjo said, adding that Congolese President Joseph Kabila's government could meet Nkunda to "iron out" details.
"The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not averse to such a dialogue," he said.
After weeks of fighting, Nkunda's Tutsi rebels last week pulled back from some positions in North Kivu province. Nkunda declared a truce in late October, when he halted his advance on the provincial capital, Goma, leading to relative calm.
Obasanjo, who has met with Nkunda, Kabila and leaders of Angola and Rwanda, was asked by reporters if the Congolese president had withdrawn his objections to holding any kind of direct talks with the Tutsi rebel leader.
"He did not say he will not talk," Obasanjo said.
The former Nigerian president said his next round of talks with key players in the Congo crisis would focus on arranging a meeting between the Congolese government and Nkunda's rebels.
RAMPANT HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Separately, Ban's office said in a new report obtained by Reuters that government soldiers and rebels in Congo had committed serious human right abuses, calling the situation in the vast central African state "a cause for grave concern."
Details of the report, prepared for the U.N. Security Council, emerged as New York-based Human Rights Watch said abuses against civilians were continuing on both sides of the east Congo front lines despite a lull in fighting that had displaced a quarter of a million people.
Ban's report said elements of the Congolese army and national police were responsible for many serious violations like arbitrary executions, rape, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment earlier this year.
Last week, the council approved an increase of 3,000 troops and police in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, bringing the biggest such U.N. force in the world to 20,000. The aim is to prevent the North Kivu conflict from escalating into a wider war.
The U.N. report said rebels, including Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People, and Rwandan Hutu fighters accused of participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, had "perpetrated serious human rights abuses with impunity." Continued...
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