Congo rebel leader backs ceasefire

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The Independent Online

The Democratic Republic of Congo's main rebel leader yesterday promised his support for a ceasefire and UN efforts to end the fighting.

As more heavy fighting was reported in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo met rebel leader Laurent Nkunda for the first time, after talking in recent days with President Joseph Kabila and the leader of neighbouring Angola.

Mr Obasanjo, acting as a UN envoy, flew by helicopter to the rebel-held town of Jomba near the Ugandan border, and was greeted with a hug by the grey-suited Mr Nkunda.

After a two-hour meeting in a church compound, Mr Obasanjo said the rebel leader agreed to maintain a fragile cease fire in the Central African nation.

"(But) cease fire maintenance is like dancing tango. One does not dance tango alone," Mr Obasanjo said.

In a policy shift, Mr Nkunda applauded Mr Obasanjo's involvement in Congo's crisis.

"Today is a great day for us because we were losing many men and material. Now we have a message of peace. We should work with this mission," Mr Nkunda said, adding that the DR Congolese government had to support the cease fire as well.

Later in the regional capital of Goma, Mr Obasanjo said he expected talks between the warring parties to take place in Nairobi, Kenya. He gave no date, though, and said it was unlikely there would be face-to-face talks between Mr Kabila and Mr Nkunda.

Mr Obasanjo was due in Rwanda later today for talks with that country's president, Paul Kagame, who wields strong influence over Mr Nkunda.

Mr Nkunda, a former general, quit DR Congo's army in 2004 and launched a rebellion he claims is aimed at protecting ethnic Tutsis from Hutu militias who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide that left more than 500,000 mostly Tutsis dead.

Critics, however, say Mr Nkunda is more interested in power and the country's mineral wealth.

Ahead of the talks, clashes broke out in Ndeko, about 55 miles north of Goma, according Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, a spokesman for the 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission.

Mr Dietrich described the morning battle between government soldiers and rebels as "heavy" and said six army troops were wounded.