DR Congo

Regional group ready to send peacekeepers to Congo

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By Rebecca Harrison

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Southern African countries are willing to send a peacekeeping force to try to help stabilise the eastern Congo, an official of the SADC regional grouping said on Sunday.

Tomaz Salamao, executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said after a regional summit the group would also send military advisers to help the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Salamao said in a statement at a news conference that "if and when necessary", the SADC would send a peacekeeping force to eastern Congo.

Sporadic fighting between dissident Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda's men and Congolese government soldiers and their allies erupted in various parts of North Kivu despite new calls by African leaders for a ceasefire.

The fighting has taken on a regional dimension as Rwanda, which has twice invaded Congo, officially to fight the Hutu rebels, is accused of supporting Nkunda and Kinshasa has called on Angola, which backed it during the war, for help.

Congo's weak and chaotic army collapsed during Nkunda's advance last week. But the appearance in North Kivu of more disciplined, Portuguese-speaking soldiers has fuelled speculation SADC member Angola has sent reinforcements.

"The extraordinary summit resolved that a SADC team of military experts be deployed immediately to assess the situation in the eastern part of DRC," Salamao said.

"SADC should immediately provide assistance to the armed forces of DRC."

SADC earlier called for a ceasefire in eastern Congo to give displaced people access to humanitarian assistance.

Aid agency efforts to help thousands of people displaced by fighting in Democratic Republic of Congo largely failed on Saturday, despite an appeal by African leaders for a ceasefire.

Opening a regional summit in Johannesburg, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said SADC wanted an immediate ceasefire in Congo.

"We firmly believe that there is no military solution to the problem," said Motlanthe, whose country chairs the SADC.

"The involvement of all role players including SADC in the DRC is central, which means we should continue to play a prominent role, hence the need to deliberate on our strategic intervention."

African leaders and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met in Nairobi on Friday to tackle the conflict, rooted in Rwanda's 1994 genocide of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

(Reporting by Rebecca Harrison and Phumza Macanda; writing by Michael Georgy)

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