NAIROBI, November 7 – UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged African leaders gathered in Nairobi on Friday to stop the rot in eastern DR Congo or face a regional crisis, even as fresh fighting erupted and thousands were displaced.
Clashes broke out between Congolese troops and renegade general Laurent Nkunda’s rebels around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the regional capital Goma, the fourth consecutive day of violence after a brief ceasefire last week.
DR Congo President Joseph Kabila’s spokesman accused UN peacekeepers of doing nothing to stop killings by rebels, following reports by Human Rights Watch that at least 20 civilians had been killed on Thursday.
"People are being slaughtered and MONUC did nothing," Kudura Kasongo said.
A senior Western official attending the summit admitted that "more should have been done" but said he remained confident that MONUC’s Indian contingent could prevent Nkunda from capturing Goma.
"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 Ki-moon said.
The UN said Friday it estimated 253,000 people have been displaced in the region since September.
"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," Ban said.
The Presidents of the DR Congo, Rwanda and Kenya were among those attending the summit, as well as the UN’s newly-appointed envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
One of the main goals of the meeting is to rekindle dialogue between President Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, whose government has been accused of supporting the rebels, which it has repeatedly denied.
But EU commissioner for development and humanitarian aid Louis Michel said direct talks between the two were not on the agenda.
At a meeting in Nairobi a year ago almost to the day, their two countries committed to a plan aimed at stabilising the eastern DR Congo 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.
Kagame has vehemently denied any involvement in the latest fighting.
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.
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.
Rebels wrested control of the town of Nyanzale in a fresh offensive on Thursday after earlier repulsing a counter-offensive by pro-government Mai Mai militia on the town of Kiwanja.
A Belgian reporter taken hostage this week by the Mai-Mai has been freed, the German newspaper he works for announced.
Officials gathered in Nairobi were also discussing the possibility of reinforcing MONUC with African troops or reorganising the force’s deployment across the country to make it more efficient.
DR Congo is a mineral-rich country five times the size of France, and host to a myriad of armed groups, Congolese and foreign. An estimated 1,200 people die every day of conflict-related causes.
Louis Michel said as the Nairobi summit got under way that it was also vital to tackle the illegal mining that was financing the war in eastern Congo.
In an apparent olive branch to Nkunda, Congolese Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito said Thursday he was ready to talk directly with the rebels.
Nkunda’s movement was not invited to the Nairobi summit and said it expected nothing to come out of the meeting.
With peace still stuck in the starting blocks a year after all required agreements were signed, analyst Francois Grignon said 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.