x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Fighting in Congo despite rebel promises to UN

Congo's army clashed with rebels in some of the worst fighting in a week despite the rebel leader's promise to support a cease-fire.

RWINDI, CONGO // Congo's army clashed with rebels in some of the worst fighting in a week despite the rebel leader's promise to support a cease-fire, the United Nations and witnesses said today. The two sides battled last night in Rwindi, about 125km north of the eastern provincial capital of Goma. About 150 people took refuge outside a UN peacekeeping base here, huddling beside a white shipping container as mortar shells and artillery fire rained down. "These blue helmets would not let us inside, but it's better than nothing," said Clement Elias, 20, referring to the UN peacekeepers. He said he heard 100 explosions last night. There was no immediate word on casualties, according to UN peacekeeping spokesman Col Jean-Paul Dietrich. "Everybody is trying to push the other side back," Col Dietrich said. "It's very regrettable that they could not respect the cease-fire." Today, Rwindi was quiet but rebels were seen walking freely, carrying generators and boxes of ammunition. The town is tiny, housing little else but a headquarters for Virunga National Park and a peacekeeping base, which is surrounded by barbed wire and sandbags. Dozens of civilians were sitting under trees yesterday, listening to the radio for news. Heavy fighting also broke out yesterday in Ndeko, about 90km north of Goma, Col Dietrich said. The Central African nation has the world's largest UN peacekeeping mission, with about 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 promised a UN envoy yesterday he would support a cease-fire as well as UN efforts to end the fighting. "Now we have a message of peace. We should work with this mission," rebel leader Laurent Nkunda said. The UN envoy, the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, met with Mr Nkunda for the first time, after speaking with the president Joseph Kabila and the leader of neighbouring Angola. Mr 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 slaughtered. But critics say Mr Nkunda is more interested in power and Congo's mineral wealth. Fighting among armed groups has ground on for years in eastern Congo's lawless North Kivu province, but the violence sharply escalated in August and has since displaced 250,000 people.