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AFR: Congo fighting mars peace summit

07 Nov 2008 10:06 PM
By Lucie Peytermann

NAIROBI, Nov 7 AFP - Fresh fighting broke out today in eastern Congo, wreaking panic among civilians even as regional leaders gathered in Nairobi tried to rekindle dialogue and hammer our a roadmap to peace.

Clashes erupted between Congolese troops and renegade general Laurent Nkunda's rebels around 15km from the regional capital Goma, several sources said.

An AFP reporter said thousands of displaced people fled the nearby camp of Kibati, as gunshots were heard and helicopters flew overhead.

"The FARDC (government forces) have used heavy weapons from Kibati, mortarsand machineguns. The fighting is continuing," said UN military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich.

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila's spokesman accused UN peacekeepers of doing nothing to stop killings by rebels, following reports by Human Rights Watch that at least 20 civilians had been killed yesterday.

"People are being slaughtered and MONUC did nothing," Kudura Kasongo said.

A senior Western official attending the summit admitted that "more should have been done" but said he remained confident that MONUC's Indian contingent could prevent Nkunda from capturing Goma, even without backing from routed government forces.

The presidents of the DRC, Rwanda and Kenya were among those attending the summit, as well as the UN's newly-appointed envoy to Congo, former Nigerianpresident Olusegun Obasanjo.

One of the main goals of the meeting is to rekindle dialogue between Kabilaand his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, whose government has been accusedof supporting the rebels, which it has repeatedly denied.

But EU commissioner for development and humanitarian aid Louis Michel said direct talks between the two were not on the agenda.

At a meeting in Nairobi a year ago almost to the day, their two countries committed to a plan aimed at stabilising the eastern DR Congo but both sideshave failed to deliver.

Under that agreement, Kinshasa was supposed to disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels wanted over the 1994 genocide and operating in eastern Congo while Kigaliwas to stop supporting armed groups, including Congolese rebels using Rwanda as a staging ground.

Kagame has vehemently denied any involvement in the latest round of fighting and lambasted what he says is a misguided approach by an international community shirking responsibility.

Kinshasa has never exercised any real authority in eastern DRC and its regular troops fled in the face of Laurent Nkunda's offensive, allowing the rebels to seize key towns and threaten the regional capital Goma.

The mission in Congo (MONUC) is the UN's largest peacekeeping force with 17,000 troops but it has only a few hundred in the areas affected by the latest violence and has been unable to curb the fighting and displacement.

Rebels wrested control of the town of Nyanzale in a fresh offensive on Thursday after earlier repulsing a counter-offensive by pro-government Mai Mai militia on the town of Kiwanja.

Residents of Kiwanja accused rebel forces Thursday of murdering civilians as they drove back the Mai-Mai. An AFP photographer counted eight bodies in civilian clothes.

A Belgian reporter taken hostage this week by the Mai-Mai has been freed, the German newspaper he works for announced.

Officials gathered in Nairobi were discussing the possibility of reinforcing MONUC with African troops or reorganising the force's deployment across the country to make it more efficient.

DR Congo is a mineral-rich country five times the size of France, and host to a myriad of armed groups, Congolese and foreign. An estimated 1,200 people die every day of conflict-related causes.

Louis Michel said as the Nairobi summit got under way that it was also vital to tackle the illegal mining that was financing the war in eastern Congo.

He said he hoped the crisis summit would help create "mechanisms that wouldtrack and prevent the plundering of mining resources."

AFP ht=0A