DR Congo

DR Congo/North Kivu: UN urges direct dialogue, civilians caught between rebels and army

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Encouraging dialogue between the Congolese government and rebels active in North Kivu is critical to securing peace in the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to not lose the positive "moment" and truce in force for days, said the United Nations Special Envoy for the crisis and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, on return from an official mission in the Great Lakes region where he met with the main local protagonists of the crisis underway since the end of August in Kivu, escalating into violence in the past weeks and deepening an already grave humanitarian emergency. Speaking to reporters at the UN building, Obasanjo said that he did not "consider outrageous" the demands made by the rebel leader, the renegade pro-Rwandan general Laurent Nkunda - direct talks with the Congolese government, protection of minorities, and integration of his soldiers and administrators in rebel-controlled areas into the Congolese army and government - adding that the Kinshasa government "is not averse to such dialogue" with the rebel CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People). Nkunda's CNDP in the past weeks seized a large portion of territory in the area north of Goma, capital of North Kivu, transferring his stronghold to the forests of Rutshuru (a strategic crossing in east DR-Congo) and is now negotiating from a stronger standpoint. On the ground, while the truce appears to be holding between the CNDP and Congolese army, local sources indicate that the violence against civilians continues. According to the UN Radio Okapi, residents of Kanyabayonga, Kayina and Kirumba have continued to leave their homes in small groups, seeking refuge in the forests from the violence and pillaging carried out mainly by regular soldiers. Following the withdrawal of Nkunda's troops that reached the doors of Kanyabayonga, the inhabitants of the surrounding villages are in fact caught between the rebel forces and soldiers camped out nearby. Local sources warn that the already precarious humanitarian situation is further exasperated by the total absence of Non-Governmental Organisations able to provide assistance to the population.