UN envoy Obasanjo in bid for Congo peace

JOMBA, Congo - A United Nations envoy met Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda for talks to seek peace in eastern Congo yesterday as fresh fighting flared between rebel and government forces in north Kivu province.

JOMBA, Congo - A United Nations envoy met Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda for talks to seek peace in eastern Congo yesterday as fresh fighting flared between rebel and government forces in north Kivu province.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to try to end the conflict in east Democratic Republic of Congo, met Nkunda at Jomba, not far from the borders with Rwanda and Uganda.

Earlier, a UN official and a witness reported heavy exchanges of artillery, rocket and small arms fire near the village of Ndeko, about 110km north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Obasanjo, who held talks on Saturday with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, is seeking to prevent the fighting in north Kivu from escalating into a repeat of a wider 1998-2003 Congo war that sucked in six neighbouring states.

Weeks of combat between Nkunda's Tutsi rebels and government troops and their militia allies have displaced around 250000 civilians, creating what aid agencies call a "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in east Congo.

Escorted by Indian peacekeepers, Obasanjo flew in by helicopter to Jomba, Nkunda's home village in the foothills of the Virunga mountains.

He greeted Nkunda, who wore a grey suit and carried a cane topped with a silver eagle's head, with a hug, before the two held talks in a church compound.

Obasanjo also inspected a guard of honour of Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels.

"It would be better for them to be part of a national army rather than for them to be called rebels. That is what we are here to try and do," Obasanjo said.

A witness on a road just south of Ndeko, which is 60km northwest of where Obasanjo met Nkunda, said: "There is a lot of fighting going on. They are using heavy weapons, rockets and artillery, as well as small arms.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo also confirmed the clashes.

"There was heavy fighting ... it seems as though the situation has calmed down now," spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said.

"It is difficult to say who started it but we can confirm it was between the CNDP and the army. We treated six army soldiers who were wounded and needed to be evacuated," he added. - Reuters

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