French, British ministers meet in DRC

November 1, 2008 12:00 am

, KINSHASA, November 1 – Foreign ministers from France and Britain held crisis talks Saturday with Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila in a diplomatic push to halt a rebel advance and looming humanitarian disaster in the east of the country.

France’s Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart David Miliband met Kabila for 90 minutes and were due to travel on to Goma in the volatile east, and then Kigali for talks with Paul Kagame, the leader of Rwanda, which has been accused of aiding the Tutsi rebel assault in the DRC.

"We had a good meeting…. The key theme of our discussion has been the need to implement the agreements that have already been made," Miliband said after the meeting.

"Around the world, people are seeing the makings of a humanitarian crisis and it’s vital that politics is used to reverse a further round of deaths and killings," he said.

Referring to the Goma peace accord reached in January this year, Kouchner added: "We do not have to redefine the peace protocol… That has already been done."

Under the agreement, which has not been implemented, a ceasefire would be enforced and all armed groups in the region would be disarmed.

With rebel forces surrounding Goma and tens of thousands of people fleeing the chaos, Kabila and Kagame have also agreed to an emergency summit under the aegis of the United Nations and the African Union, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said late Friday.

Michel said both leaders were clearly sincere about "opting for dialogue and putting an end to the reasons that are undermining the east" of the DRC — the scene of protracted fighting between rebels and government forces.

In Goma, tension remained high amid a fragile ceasefire as Tutsi rebel troops led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda laid siege at the doorstep of the capital of Nord Kivu province.

Government forces abandoned Goma on Wednesday as the rebels advanced on the city, leaving just 850 United Nations peacekeepers between Nkunda’s forces and Goma.

The UN refugee agency said it had received credible reports that rebels had looted and burned camps for displaced people.

"We are extremely concerned about the fate of some 50,000 displaced people living in these camps, which include the UNHCR-administered sites of Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists.

Before leaving Paris, Kouchner lamented the violence plaguing eastern DRC. "This is a massacre such as Africa has probably never seen, which is taking place virtually before our eyes," he told the Europe 1 radio station.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said Congo’s routed government forces had gone on a rampage of lootings, killings and rape over the past few days in Goma.

She urged the government to take "swift and significant action" to control their troops and protect civilians.

"What happened in Goma should not have happened, as most violations were committed by looting soldiers belonging to the government forces," she said.

Pillay also accused rebel forces of rights abuses, such as firing indiscriminately at a clinic where government soldiers had fled.

Some 220,000 people have now been displaced since fighting broke out in August, bringing to more than one million the number forced from their homes in Nord-Kivu, a province bordering Rwanda that totals five million.

Nkunda, who says he is protecting the Tutsi population, has accused the DRC army of colluding with Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the Nord-Kivu region.

The DRC government, for its part, has accused Rwanda of aiding Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP).

The head of Uruguay’s military, which contributes 1,300 troops to the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, said Friday the CNDP was "backed by tanks" and "artillery" from Rwanda.

General Jorge Rosales said it was "not easy to identify rebel forces," but indicated that there is a "high probability that troops from Rwanda are operating in the area."

"These (rebel) troops are backed by tanks, something that general Nkunda had not had until now," he said.

Rebel forces were within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of the UN peacekeepers, eight kilometers north of Goma, Uruguayan officials said.



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