Congo fighting escalates despite ceasefire

Congo’s army clashed with rebels in some of the worst fighting in a week despite the rebel leader’s promise to support a ceasefire, the United Nations said today.

Congo’s army clashed with rebels in some of the worst fighting in a week despite the rebel leader’s promise to support a ceasefire, the United Nations said today.

There was no immediate word on casualties from last night’s fighting in Riwindi, about 75 miles north of the eastern provincial capital of Goma, said UN peacekeeping spokesman Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich.

“Everybody is trying to push the other side back,” Dietrich said. “It’s very regrettable that they could not respect the ceasefire.”

Heavy fighting also broke out yesterday in Ndeko, about 55 miles north of Goma, he said.

The Central African nation has the world’s largest UN peacekeeping mission, with some 17,000 troops, but the peacekeepers have been unable to either stop the fighting or protect civilians caught in the way.

Congo’s main rebel leader yesterday promised a UN envoy he would support a ceasefire as well as UN efforts to end fighting.

“Now we have a message of peace. We should work with this mission,” rebel leader Laurent Nkunda said.

The envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, met with Nkunda for the first time. He earlier spoke to President Joseph Kabila and the leader of neighbouring Angola.

Nkunda launched a rebellion in 2004, claiming to protect ethnic Tutsis from Hutu militias who fled to Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide left more than 500,000 Tutsis and others dead. But critics say Nkunda is more interested in power and the country’s mineral wealth.

Low-level fighting among armed groups has ground on for years in eastern Congo’s lawless North Kivu province, but violence sharply escalated in August and has since displaced 250,000 people.

Congo’s government has said it is willing to meet Nkunda, but only with the many other militias operating in the region. Nkunda has criticised the government for signing deals with Chinese companies to exploit the nation’s mineral wealth.

On Friday, Obasanjo visited Angola to speak with President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who assured him that no Angolan troops were in Congo despite numerous reports to the contrary.

Congo has called on Angola for military help, and some fear the current crisis could once again draw in neighbouring countries. Congo’s devastating 1998-2002 war split the vast nation into rival fiefdoms and involved half a dozen African armies, including Angola’s.

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