The rebel Congo general laying siege to Goma demanded direct talks with the government today over ending fighting in the region.
Laurent Nkunda said he also wants the urgent disarmament of a Rwandan Hutu militia that he accuses of preying on his minority Tutsi people.
Nkunda claims the Congolese government has not protected his minority Tutsi tribe from Rwandan Hutu militia who fled to Congo after helping carry out the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which half a million Tutsis were slaughtered.
He also says the militia is being allowed to work with government forces.
“It’s not acceptable for government soldiers to be fighting alongside genociders,” Nkunda said. “We want peace for people in the region.”
Nkunda has threatened to take Goma, which is a border post with Rwanda, despite calls from the UN Security Council for him to respect a cease-fire brokered by the UN in January.
His rebellion has threatened to reignite the back-to-back wars that rocked Congo from 1996 to 2002, drawing in neighbouring African nations.
The UN’s 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission, attempting to protect the population and stop the rebellion, says it is badly overstretched and urgently needs reinforcement.
So far Nkunda has heeded UN demands that he stay out of Goma.
Nkunda fought alongside Rwandan Tutsi rebels who halted the genocide and took over Rwanda, then joined the Congolese rebellion that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. But he defected from Congo’s army in 2005, when the government issued an international arrest warrant, implicating him in numerous war crimes.
Since he went on the offensive on August 28, claiming the government had broken the cease-fire, the fighting has forced more than 200,000 people from their homes.
He says he wants direct talks with the government to negotiate numerous issues but complained in particular about a 5 billion dollar agreement in which China gets access to Congo’s vast mineral riches in return for building a road and railway that would open up the remote mining interior to southern neighbours and a port on the Atlantic.
A 2001 UN investigation on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Congo found that the conflict in the country had become mainly about “access, control and trade” of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold.
Exploitation of Congo’s natural resources by foreign armies was “systematic and systemic,” and the Ugandan and Rwandan leaders in particular had turned their soldiers into armies of business, it said.
The conflict “has created a ’win-win’ situation for all belligerents,” the report concluded. “The only loser in this huge business venture is the Congolese people.”
In contrast to the widespread looting in Goma by fleeing troops from the Congolese army, aid workers say Nkunda’s forces have been more disciplined, taking only medicine that they need from clinics, for example.