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15.11.2008 Congo

Obasanjo mediates in DR Congo

Obasanjo mediates in DR Congo

UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president, is in the Democratic Republic of Congo for talks aimed at ending months of violence.

Having met President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, Mr Obasanjo is heading east to see rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. He has already spoken to him by phone.

Meanwhile the first UN aid delivery has reached areas hit by fighting between rebels and Congolese government troops.

An estimated 250,000 people have been made homeless by the violence.

Mr Obasanjo's visit follows Friday's announcement that Rwanda and DR Congo have agreed to work together to deal with forces along their common border blamed for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Mr Obasanjo confirmed that he would meet Mr Nkunda during a visit to the eastern North-Kivu region.

"I go to Goma [North Kivu's provincial capital], and from Goma, we will be seeing Nkunda. He was kind enough to ring me three days ago and speak to me while I was in Nigeria," the envoy said.

"He explained that he is full of expectations for us to meet and talk face-to-face."

The Associated Press quoted Gen Nkunda's spokesman as saying the meeting was likely to take place on Sunday in the rebel-held town of Rutshuru, north of Goma, or Bunagana, on the Uganda border.

No details of Mr Obasanjo's discussions with Mr Kabila have yet been given.

Earlier, Mr Obasanjo said he was hopeful his mission could achieve peace, but that it would not be easy.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan FDLR Hutu rebels who fled to DR Congo after the genocide.

Some 250,000 people have fled violence that began in August between Gen Nkunda's fighters and government forces.

The United Nations says it has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

On Friday, for the first time after weeks of fighting, UN aid workers delivered maize and lentils to the first of at least 50,000 hungry civilians in Rutshuru territory, about 40 miles (70km) north of Goma.

"I can't remember how many days my family hasn't eaten - I think about four or five days," said teacher Djuma Kabere.

"These are very small quantities. How can families survive? It's more important to bring peace instead of food."

Destabilising factor

Also on Friday, Rwanda and DR Congo agreed to co-operate in dealing with forces along their common border.

Foreign ministers from both countries said Rwandan intelligence teams would go into DR Congo to work with the Congolese army and the international community to help end the presence there of Hutu fighters, cited by Gen Nkunda as the justification for his rebellion.

The Hutu fighters - known as the Interahamwe - have lived in eastern DR Congo since 1994 and have been a key factor in destabilising the region.

The Congolese government has often promised to stop Hutu forces using its territory, but has not done so.

Its forces have been accused of instead working with the FDLR to exploit the region's rich mines.