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UN envoy in Congo for talks amid fighting

Rebels, soldiers renew battles

By Anita Powell
Associated Press / November 16, 2008
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GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo - Renewed fighting broke out yesterday between rebels and soldiers in eastern Congo, as a UN special envoy flew in for emergency talks and said President Joseph Kabila was ready to meet his main rival.

Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, spoke in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, before flying to the eastern city of Goma. Fighting erupted in August in the east, displacing 250,000 people and raising fears that the violence could spread through the region.

Obasanjo met Kabila late Friday and said the Congolese leader "did not give anything that I would call conditions" for holding talks with rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. "But we are at the exploratory stage now," Obasanjo said.

Congo's government has always said it was willing to meet Nkunda, but only along with the myriad other militias operating in the region - not alone.

Nkunda says he is fighting to protect ethnic Tutsis from Hutu militias who fled to Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide. The mass slaughter left more than 500,000 dead, most of them Tutsis.

Obasanjo said Nkunda called him three days ago and asked to see him. "I am also looking forward to that, and from there we move on," Obasanjo said.

Later yesterday in Goma, UN officials and local dignitaries greeted Obasanjo. He confirmed he planned to meet Nkunda, but gave no details.

Nkunda's spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said the meeting would probably take place today in one of the rebel-held towns of Rutshuru, north of Goma, or Bunagana, on the Ugandan border.

The army and rebels exchanged fire briefly yesterday in Kabasha, a village about 70 miles north of Goma, said Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, a spokesman for the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Congo.

"It's not clear who started it," Dietrich said. "We have launched patrols in the area."

The rebel spokesman could not confirm the fighting, but said it was tense around Kanyabayonga, 10 miles to the west of Kabasha.

"There is a big movement of the government army from Kanyabayonga toward our positions," Bisimwa said. "They have tanks, helicopters, many things. They want to attack us."

The brief skirmish was the first reported since Tuesday.

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