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17.11.2008 Congo

Congo Rebel Leader 'Backs U.N. Cease-Fire'

By Daily Guide

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has said he will support a peace process with the government of DR Congo, following talks with UN peace envoy Olusegun Obasanjo.

Gen Nkunda also said he would respect a ceasefire, if the Congolese government did. Mr Obasanjo said it would take effort from both sides to keep a truce.

The meeting came amid reports of fresh clashes in the east of the country.

An estimated 250,000 people have been made homeless by weeks of conflict between rebels and government troops.

Speaking after the talks in the rebel-held town of Jomba, Gen Nkunda - wearing a grey suit rather than a military uniform - acknowledged that many lives had been lost in the fighting.

"Today is a great day for us because we were losing many men and now we have a message of peace. We should work with this mission," he said.

"We agreed to open humanitarian corridors to support the process."

Mr Obasanjo, Nigeria's former president, told reporters the discussions had gone "extremely well".

But he suggested concerted efforts would be needed for the peace initiative to succeed, saying: "Nkunda wants to maintain a ceasefire but it's like dancing the tango. You can't do it alone."

Mr Obasanjo, Nigeria's former president, told reporters the discussions had gone "extremely well".

But he suggested concerted efforts would be needed for the peace initiative to succeed, saying: "Nkunda wants to maintain a ceasefire but it's like dancing the tango. You can't do it alone."

BBC world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle, in Goma, says Gen Nkunda reaffirmed his support for a ceasefire he had declared unilaterally a week ago, and repeated his demand for talks with the government on political, economic and security issues.

None of this is new, our correspondent says, and some observers were surprised at how Mr Obasanjo appears to have been seduced by Mr Nkunda, who Congolese officials and human rights groups refer to as a "war criminal".

It may be that Mr Obasanjo was expecting the rebel group to be a motley collection and when he saw that Mr Nkunda's troops were a well-equipped military unit, he was surprised, our correspondent adds.

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 1994 genocide.

The government of DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila has to date rejected Gen Nkunda's calls for direct negotiation.

Mr Obasanjo, who met President Kabila on Friday, said the president had not laid down conditions for talks with the country's rebels.

The UN envoy also met members of DR Congo's parliament and ambassadors representing UN Security Council members in Kinshasa on Saturday.

No conditions

In the latest clashes on Sunday, witnesses reported hearing artillery, rockets and small arms fire near the village of Ndeko, about 55 miles (90km) north of provincial capital Goma and near the strategically important town of Kanyabayonga.

A UN military spokesman said soldiers from Gen Nkunda's rebel force and Congolese army troops had been involved in the fighting.

In a recent BBC interview, Gen Nkunda said he wanted to take over the whole of Congo.

This was obviously propaganda, our correspondent says, but it scared many Congolese people because they, on the whole, believe that Gen Nkunda is backed by Congo's small but powerful neighbour, Rwanda.

Rwanda, for its part, says Congo backs an anti-Rwandan government militia force based in the Congolese forest, our correspondent adds.

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