Rebels threaten Kinshasa if bid for talks fails

The Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda said yesterday he would extend his eastern guerrilla war to the capital, Kinshasa, 1,500km (950 miles) away unless the government agreed to political negotiations with him.

"If they refuse to negotiate, it will mean they will be ready to only fight and we will fight them because we have to fight for our freedom," General Nkunda said at his hilltop headquarters in Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern North Kivu province. He said his next offensive would not stop at the North Kivu capital, Goma, but would aim west for Kinshasa.

The rebels have halted a major advance towards Goma that sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing from their homes and the renegade general declared a ceasefire. He said he is fighting to defend Congo's Tutsi minority but also demands a better government for the whole country. But he also said if his offer of talks was not accepted by President Joseph Kabila, he would end the ceasefire in North Kivu. Congo's government has refused to negotiate with General Nkunda since his most recent offensive and has accused neighbouring Rwanda of backing him, a charge denied by Kigali.

The United Nations is leading international efforts to try to arrange a peace summit between Congo and Rwanda and to solve the humanitarian emergency in the east of the former Belgian colony, which has rich reserves of copper, cobalt and gold.