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Congo officials agree to talk peace with rebel envoys

By T.J. Kirkpatrick
Associated Press / December 6, 2008
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GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo - Congolese officials agreed yesterday to talk peace with rebels whose recent offensive has brought the country's eastern region back to the brink of all-out war.

Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said in a communique following a meeting with his Rwandan counterpart that Congo is now willing to meet envoys of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda to discuss a path to long-term peace and to formalize a cease-fire deal. The talks are scheduled to begin Monday in Nairobi.

Years of low-level fighting in eastern Congo intensified with a rebel offensive Nkunda launched Aug. 28 that has driven more than 250,000 people from their homes.

Nkunda, a Tutsi, is trying to drive from the Congo about 1,500 Hutu militiamen. Many of the Hutus are believed to be Rwandan exiles who fled to Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which more than 500,000 people, most of them Tutsis, were slaughtered.

Nkunda has insisted on direct talks with the government, which had resisted until yesterday. Nkunda was not immediately available for comment.

Mwamba met in the eastern town of Goma with Rosemary Museminal, his counterpart from Tutsi-led Rwanda, which has long been accused of meddling in eastern Congo in hopes of routing the Hutu fighters.

Rwanda and Congo both agreed to step up efforts to undermine the Hutu rebels in Congo, where they operate just over the border from Rwanda - a major factor in the two countries' poor relations.

"This is not a political organization, this is killer organization," Museminal said of the Hutu group, after signing a communique.

Details were not released on how the two countries would step up their pursuit of the Hutu fighters; the communique signed by the two foreign ministers made no mention of Rwandan forces entering Congo.

The rebels and government soldiers all are accused of grave atrocities against civilians. Some 17,000 UN peacekeepers have not been able to quell the chaos in Congo.

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