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Congo Rebel Leader Says Violence Decreasing


Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda says violence is easing in restive eastern Congo after days of heavy fighting forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, Nkunda says his rebels are ready for negotiations with the government.

In an interview from the jungles of eastern Congo, General Nkunda says his forces are prepared to fight the forces of Congolese President Joseph Kabila but would rather talk. He says now that both sides have indicated they are willing to talk, they need an international mediator to steer the process.

Nkunda's forces have clashed with government troops for years in the North Kivu province, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes. Renewed clashes in the last few days have pushed another 40,000 from their homes, killed dozens, and raised fears that eastern Congo could see a repeat of the war that saw some four million people die between 1998 and 2004.

Nkunda, whom the United Nations has dubbed the biggest threat to stability in Congo, says that President Kabila's forces are defeated in the region and he must realize that talks are now the only answer.

"I think the situation is now normalizing. I think we are going to get a way to talk to the government. I think we are going to go talk because there are many problems to address," he said. "We think that he cannot chose for war, I think he is going to choose for negotiation. It's the best way to resolve problems and for us we are aware that they are going to accept that. We are not planning for fighting and I think it cannot also be for the advantage of the government."

Nkunda says his forces are fighting the Rwandan Hutus who crossed into Congo after the 1994 genocide in their country. Yet his forces have also been known to attack civilians and have been accused of widespread atrocities.

On Thursday, Nkunda's forces agreed to a cease-fire with the government after several days of fighting. While that offered some small hope of stability, there were then fears of war from a different angle, after reports emerged that Uganda was massing troops along the eastern border.

The two sides held talks over the weekend to ease tension caused by the troops' presence and border disputes surrounding the oil-rich Lake Albert area.

Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said his country is not massing troops along the border and has no plans to invade, despite the tension in North Kivu.

"No, no, no, no. We can't do that when we've just been having talks with the Congolese leader. The developments in North Kivu province certainly are of concern because of the continuous refugee that are flocking into Uganda because they are posing a strain on our resources but otherwise the situation is relaxed," said Kulayigye.

Uganda has invaded Congo twice in the past, and Kulayigye said Congo will remain in turmoil unless the government takes control of the east, eradicates the (ethnic Hutu) Interahamwe and Nkunda's forces are integrated into the national army.

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