NAIROBI, November 7 – Heads of state and mediators gathered Friday in Nairobi to energise peace efforts in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a ceasefire collapsed and renewed fighting displaced thousands.,
The emergency summit in the capital comes a day after Congolese rebel forces captured another town in Nord-Kivu and the UN peacekeeping force’s inability to stop the violence became ever more salient.
Human Rights Watch said Thursday that rebels and pro-government militia had killed at least 20 civilians in recent fighting.
"We will be discussing the way forward in the resolution of the Congo problem," Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said, adding he believed the summit would yield "a clear direction how to resolve this crisis."
Attending the summit will be UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the presidents of the DRC, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the UN’s newly-appointed envoy to the DRC, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
One of the main goals of the meeting is to rekindle dialogue between Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame.
At a meeting in Nairobi a year ago almost to the day, their two countries committed to a plan aimed at stabilising the eastern DRC but both sides have failed to deliver.
The agreement says Kinshasa will disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels wanted over the 1994 genocide and operating in eastern Congo while Kigali stops supporting armed groups, including Congolese rebels using Rwanda as a staging ground.
Congolese Foreign Minister Lambert Mende said Thursday he hoped the summit would "prepare the ground for much healthier and balanced relations between our two countries."
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.
On Thursday, rebels appeared to have successfully fought off a two-day offensive carried out by pro-government Mai Mai militia on the town of Kiwanja and captured another town in the region, Nyanzale.
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.
Human Rights Watch said at least 20 people had been killed and 33 others wounded in the battle for the control of Kiwanja and during ensuing mop-up operations by Nkunda’s troops.
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.
MONUC spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said Thursday that armoured personnel carriers were dispatched to Nyanzale to halt the fighting "with orders to fire if necessary."
Infighting between the peacekeeping force’s various national contingents, reluctance to use its fire power and growing hostility from the population have hampered MONUC’s action in the region.
Remedies to MONUC’s impotence will also be discussed in Nairobi as tens of thousands of civilians remained without shelter and little to eat.
The DRC is a country five times the size of France, host to a myriad of armed groups, Congolese and foreign. An estimated 1,200 people die every day of conflict-related causes.
In an apparent olive branch to Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), Congolese Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito said Thursday he was ready to talk directly with the rebels.
Nkunda was not invited to the summit in Nairobi and his spokesman said Thursday he expected no diplomatic breakthrough.
"Nothing is going to come out of it, there have already been so many conferences of the same kind," Bertrand Bisimwa told AFP.
With peace still stuck in the starting blocks a year after all required agreements were signed, analyst Francois Grignon said however that Obasanjo’s appointment should boost hopes.
"Obasanjo is a former head of state and has the authority to check Kagame and Kabila… to pick up his phone and call the UN Security Council," said Grignon, head of the International Crisis Group’s Africa Programme.