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UN Chief Appeals for Congo Rebel Leader to Keep Cease-Fire, Begin Dialogue


The United Nations secretary-general is expressing hope that two envoys he has dispatched to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda can contain what Ban Ki-Moon calls a "very serious situation" in the region. Speaking to reporters in the Indian capital Friday afternoon, the secretary-general called on the rebel Congolese leader advancing on Goma to keep the cease-fire and engage in dialogue. VOA correspondent Steve Herman in New Delhi has details.

The United Nations chief is calling for Congolese rebels to talk rather than fight as the world body warns of a "humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportion" along the Rwandan-Congo border.

Two U.N. envoys, as well as the top American diplomat for Africa, are in the region hoping to establish negotiations between the Congolese government and ethnic Tutsi rebels.

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had been in touch numerous times with key world leaders about the central African crisis during his two-day visit to India.

A rebel Tutsi commander, Laurent Nkunda, called a unilateral cease-fire after halting his advance this week on Goma in eastern Congo. Nkunda, who commands about 10,000 fighters, is threatening to take the provincial capital near the Rwandan border unless international peacekeepers guarantee a cease-fire.

Mr. Ban is appealing to Nkunda, the leader of the "National Congress for People's Defense," to engage in discussions to avert rekindling hostilities that led to two wars in the past 12 years, involving eight African nations.

"I also urge this General Nkunda of CNDP to disengage and keep this cease-fire declaration which he has made and engage in dialog," Ban said.

The United Nations has 17,000 troops in Congo, its largest contingent of peacekeepers in the world. As the U.N. scrambles to transfer troops from other parts of the country to the border region, officials at U.N. headquarters warned that their force is already overstretched and unable to protect civilians in the region.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban notes that the European Union remains divided about whether to send troops to Congo.

"I sincerely hope they will be able to agree but according to a report I received there has been some disagreement among some member states of the European Union," he said. "I understand that they are now looking at this issue again."

Nkunda, vowing to protect Tutsis, a minority in eastern Congo, is rejecting the peace accord signed in January, saying the process has been overly dominated by the government of Congo President Joseph Kabila.

Mr. Ban says he has been speaking over the past two days both with Mr. Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The Congolese government has accused Rwanda of backing rebels.

Meanwhile the U.N.'s Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, issued a statement condemning Congolese government forces for a rampage of looting, killing and rapes in Goma.

Pillay says during the past few days such human rights violations have been recorded by U.N. staff in the region. He also accuses rebel forces of abuses as well, including firing indiscriminately on a medical facility where government soldiers had fled.

Media reports from the area indicate that thousands of traumatized refugees are on the move, hoping to return home beyond the front lines in eastern Congo while the tenuous cease-fire remains in place.

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