DR Congo + 3 more

Thousands flee DR Congo clashes, Goma ceasefire holds

By Emmanuel Braun

KIWANJA, Congo, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Thousands of civilians fled fighting in eastern Congo on Wednesday that shook a week-old ceasefire and plans were announced for a summit of Great Lakes leaders on Friday to try to end the conflict.

A second day of confused clashes at Kiwanja near Rutshuru, seized last week by General Laurent Nkunda's Tutsi rebels, raised fears of more fighting in the region near Rwanda.

Civilians streamed from Kiwanja to Rutshuru to escape what they said were attacks by pro-government Mai-Mai militiamen.

Machinegun fire and the thump of artillery could be heard. One elderly man walking with a cane wore a shirt covered in dried blood from a bullet wound. He said the Mai-Mai shot him.

Hundreds of civilians sheltered at a ruined primary school close to a U.N. peacekeepers' camp. Smoke rose from nearby.

A rebel spokesman accused Congolese government forces of breaking the ceasefire at Kiwanja, 70 km (45 miles) north of Goma, capital of the country's North Kivu province.

The North Kivu government army commander blamed Mai-Mai militia and said his own forces would respect the ceasefire.

Nkunda also said he was upholding the ceasefire he declared last week after halting his forces' advance towards Goma, where aid agencies are struggling to help some of an estimated million refugees displaced by two years of conflict in North Kivu.

"It's still being maintained," Nkunda told Reuters by telephone from his hilltop headquarters in North Kivu.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York he would attend a Great Lakes summit on Friday in Kenya's capital Nairobi to address the crisis in eastern Congo.

Ban said he would meet Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame and would urge Kabila to speak with Nkunda and anyone else who could help end the crisis.

Congo and Rwanda have accused each other of supporting feuding rebel and militia groups in east Congo, whose conflict traces its origins back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Ban's newly nominated special envoy for east Congo, told Reuters he would meet both presidents in Nairobi to see how to end the violence.

"Do we need a stronger mandate or do we need a reassessment and redeployment to meet the challenges on the ground? ... the meeting I am having will clarify things a little bit," he said.


Some aid workers said they were suspending operations in the immediate combat zone around Kiwanja and Rutshuru.

"We left Rutshuru yesterday because of the fighting in the area. When the situation improves, we hope to return and continue our programmes, but at present we can't," said Francis Nakwafio Kasai, a U.N. humanitarian agency (OCHA) official.

U.N. peacekeepers said they had launched an operation around Kiwanja to try to halt the fighting and obtain the release of a Belgian journalist, working for a German newspaper, whom U.N. officials said had been seized by Mai-Mai militiamen.

The enduring conflict, years after Congo's wider 1998-2003 war, has triggered international efforts to secure lasting peace on Congo's Great Lakes border with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

In Kigali, Kagame dismissed Congolese accusations that Rwandan troops were fighting with Nkunda in east Congo.

"It's their own failure in Congo," Kagame told reporters.

Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said pro-government Pareco Mai-Mai militia and anti-Tutsi Rwandan Hutu rebels were involved alongside Congo army (FARDC) soldiers in the Kiwanja fighting.

The North Kivu government army commander, General Vainqueur Mayala, denied his men were involved and blamed the fighting on Mai-Mai militia. He said his troops would respect the ceasefire.

"I'm under strict orders from the military hierarchy to ensure all our forces strictly observe the ceasefire," he said.

Near Kibati, north of Goma, troops reinforced army positions with ammunition and heavy machineguns on trucks, witnesses said.

Rebel chief Nkunda, who belongs to and defends Congo's Tutsi minority but also demands a better government for the whole country, threatened on Tuesday to take his guerrilla war to the capital Kinshasa unless the government agreed to talks with him.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, at 17,000 strong the largest of its kind in the world, has strengthened its positions around Goma but says it is thinly stretched across a nation the size of Europe, where several armed groups operate.

Ban has asked the Security Council to approve 3,000 more troops and police for Congo, but they are unlikely to come soon.

"We need at least two more battalions, one being very mobile (and) very well equipped," Alain le Roy, U.N. peacekeeping chief, said in Goma. "It first has to be discussed by the Security Council. It could be weeks, maybe months."

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(Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Kinshasa, Yves Boussen in Goma, Helen Nyambura in Nairobi and Jack Kimball in Kigali; Nick Tattersall in Lagos; writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Elizabeth Piper)


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