NAIROBI, November 8 – A crisis summit on eastern DR Congo called for an immediate ceasefire and the creation of humanitarian corridors amid fresh fighting on the ground and a warning by UN chief Ban Ki-moon that the conflict could spread.
But rebels at the centre of the conflict who did not attend rubbished Friday’s one-day summit held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, saying the Congolese people’s problems would only be settled by direct talks with the Kinshasa government.
Diplomacy was "without hope after this summit," rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa told AFP, adding that the participants were just going "round and round."
"There should be an immediate ceasefire by all the armed groups and militias in Nord-Kivu," said the emergency meeting’s final declaration.
It urged the implementation of the disarmament of rebel groups in the region and the beefing-up of the UN peacekeeping force’s mandate.
The main protagonists, feuding presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, turned up but held no direct talks.
The United Nations said late Friday that troops loyal to Laurent Nkunda’s rebels and pro-government Mai-Mai militia fighters had been fingered over the murder of civilians in the DRC this week.
Following an inspection team’s visit, the UN Mission in DR Congo, MONUC, said that "serious violations of human rights" had been confirmed in Kiwanja, 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the eastern city of Goma.
"Witnesses have described incidents during which civilians lost their lives" on Tuesday, as pro-government Mai-Mai militia fighters attempted to seize the town from renegade general Nkunda’s rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) forces.
The UN statement said it had also received "credible reports" of civilian deaths in reprisal attacks "just after" the Mai-Mai left Kiwanja.
The investigators "visited 11 communal grave sites, containing at least 26 bodies, fighters and civilians," it said, adding that reports of further loss of life were still being checked out.
Immediately prior to the statement’s release, Nkunda had issued a "categorical denial" that his men were behind civilian killings in Kiwanja this week.
Renewed clashes broke out between Congolese troops and Nkunda’s CNDP around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the regional capital Goma, scattering thousands of displaced people from a nearby camp.
MONUC, which deployed helicopters to try to contain the flare-up, said the Congolese army had given assurances it had not launched a counter-offensive as initially feared, but had merely responded to rebel fire.
By then, it was too late for thousands who had fled a displaced people’s camp at Kibati, near the front line. They headed towards Goma and the UN refugee agency said they did not return once the firing had subsided.
In Nairobi, Ban used the summit to urge African leaders to stop the rot in eastern DR Congo or face a regional crisis.
"The recent military offensives by the CNDP have radically compounded the situation, led to severe humanitarian consequences and thrust the eastern DRC once more into a phase of heightened crisis. This crisis could engulf the broader sub-region," Ban said.
"As leaders of Africa, you have a historic responsibility, it is a critical moment for the Great Lakes region, and for Africa as a whole. We must put the cycle of violence behind us."
The most concrete development was the creation of a mechanism tasked with facilitating the implementation of existing peace agreements.
The new body will be based in Nairobi and report to the UN and African Union.
At a meeting in Nairobi a year ago almost to the day, DRC and Rwanda committed to a plan aimed at stabilising the Kivus but both sides have 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 Kigali was to stop supporting armed groups, including Nkunda’s forces.
Kabila’s spokesman accused UN peacekeepers of doing nothing to stop killings by rebels. "People are being slaughtered and MONUC did nothing," Kudura Kasongo said.
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. Amending its mandate requires the UN Security Council’s intervention.
In New York meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the release of a Belgian journalist, his interpreter, and his driver, who were kidnapped on Tuesday while reporting on the war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.