DR Congo

Rebels in eastern Congo reject UN call for ceasefire

News and Press Release
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By Scott Bobb

Johannesburg - The leader of a rebel group in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has rejected a call by the United Nations to stop all hostilities. The rejection comes amid growing concerns that renewed fighting in the country is fueling a humanitarian crisis. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Johannesburg.

Congolese rebel leader, General Laurent Nkunda, says he requested peace negotiations under a neutral mediator two weeks ago but says there has been no response to the call made in a letter to the head of the United Nations mission in Congo.

"The only response we have is the condemnation of the international community of the [U.N.] Security Council. We are surprised by this. And we are saying that we are asking for these negotiations. If there is [are] no negotiations we are going to fight this [Congolese] government until we will be free forever," said Nkunda.

Nkunda said in his letter that he was withdrawing from a January peace agreement with the government in Kinshasa and was expanding his struggle to free the entire nation of 65 million people.

The United Nations Security Council Wednesday called on all armed groups in eastern Congo to lay down their arms and surrender without preconditions.

It also called on the armed forces of Congo and neighboring countries to cease any support for the belligerents.

The hostilities have strained relations between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda who accuse each other of supporting rebellions against them.

Nkunda previously said his forces were defending ethnic-Tutsi Congolese, called Banyamulenge, who immigrated from Rwanda decades ago. They are being targeted by remnants of Hutu militias that fled into eastern Congo following the Rwandan genocide 14 years ago.

Several other rebel groups, including the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army, have also been staging attacks in northeastern Congo.

The latest fighting broke out again in late August. Humanitarian groups say it has led to a resurgence of atrocities against civilians and has displaced more than 100,000 people.

An estimated three million Congolese died during two civil wars in the mid-1990s. A peace agreement several years ago ended most of the violence and brought national elections two years ago. But it failed to end hostilities in parts of eastern Congo.