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Tensions Remain High in Congo


Rebels and government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue a tense standoff outside the eastern town of Goma, where sporadic fighting between the two sides has forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Leaders from Southern Africa said Sunday they would consider sending peacekeepers to the conflict, an idea that has been rejected by the main rebel leader. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

U.N. peacekeepers said the area around Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is calm, following clashes Sunday.

But with rebels from Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for People's Defense and government soldiers stationed only a few-hundred meters apart, conflict risks breaking out at any time.

Since fighting resumed in eastern Congo in August, an estimated 250,000 civilians have been displaced. The conflict has intensified in recent weeks, as rebel troops have approached the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, near the border with Rwanda.

The Congolese government has accused Rwanda of backing Nkunda and there have been reports of Angolan troops fighting alongside government forces in the area.

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Madnodje Mounoubai, played down the reports of Angolan soldiers.

"Right now, we have not seen any Angolan soldiers, we have not seen any Angolan troops," said Mounoubai. "We have no proof that there are Angolan troops engaged."

But concern is growing among African leaders. On Friday and Saturday, heads of state from the Great Lakes Region met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in Nairobi. Sunday, southern African leaders called for a ceasefire, pledging to send military advisors to DRC and raising the possibility of sending peacekeepers to the conflict.

Southern African Development Community Secretary-General Tomaz Salomao addressed reporters following an emergency summit in Johannesburg.

"SADC will not stand by and witness destructive acts of violence by any armed groups against innocent people of DRC," Salomao said. "If and when necessary, SADC will, within the Nairobi framework, send peacekeeping force into Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Nkunda told the Reuters news agency that his forces would attack African peacekeepers if they intervened on the side of the government.

Mounoubai said that there would need to be further discussion about how any potential deployment would relate to the existing U.N. peacekeeping mission.

"If you have additional troops coming into the DRC, this will have to be clarified, the line of command, will they be part of MONUC, will there be a different mission, will there be a hyrbrid like in Sudan all this has to be discussed," said Mounoubai.

The U.N. peacekeeping force, known by the French acronym MONUC, has 17,000 troops in DRC, roughly a third of them in North Kivu province. The mission has requested additional forces and equipment.

Most of the diplomatic pressure has been aimed at Nkunda. He has allowed humanitarian convoys access to territory controlled by his forces. But the U.N. has also accused his troops, as well as those of the Mai Mai militias that oppose Nkunda, of systematically killing civilians in the town of Kiwanja, an act that would constitute war crimes. Human-rights groups estimate that between 50 to 200 civilians were killed in the town.

Meanwhile, the medical organization Doctors Without Borders has warned of an outbreak of cholera in camps around Goma, saying at least 45 cases of so far been reported.

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