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DRC Talks Resume in Nairobi


Delegations from the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the rebel National Congress for Defense of the People, or CNDP, gathered for a second day of talks at the U.N. compound in Nairobi.

Mediators have expressed high hopes for the U.N.-backed talks, but the closed-door meeting has not included the leaders of either side. A rebel spokesman has said that substantive negotiations have not yet started, with discussion limited to establishing a framework for future talks between the two sides.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula, who is hosting the meeting along with U.N. special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, responded to concerns that neither Congolese President Joseph Kabila, nor CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda, have come to Nairobi.

"When you have talks like this you do not start with the principal players," he said. "You start with other players. President Kabila has sent in a cabinet minister. Mr. Nkunda has sent in his team. I do not personally know them, but they look to be responsible people. S o I think that those are sufficiently responsible people to engage in these discussions."

The government team is led by International and Regional Cooperation Minister Raymond Tshibanda, while the rebel delegation is headed by Serge Kambasu Ngeve, a deputy to Nkunda.

The conflict in eastern Congo has seen a succession of failed peace efforts. The government and the CNDP signed an agreement in January, but fighting resumed in late August, with about 250,000 people so far displaced.

Rebel forces advanced to within a few kilometers of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and for the past month remained in a tense standoff with government forces.

Nkunda claims he is protecting the country's ethnic Tutsi community from attacks by the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia, one of about 20 armed groups operating in Eastern Congo.

Friday, the governments of Congo and Rwanda agreed to pursue the FDLR. At a meeting in the Rwandan capital Kigali on Monday, Congo's representative to the Great Lakes region, Seraphin Ngwej, repeated Congo's intention to send the FDLR back to Rwanda.

It is not clear if the Congolese government has the capacity to go after the militia, and such action may require assistance from the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MONUC.

The United Nations has 17,000 peacekeepers in the country, most of them in the East, but they are spread thin. The U.N. Security Council has approved the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops, but it could take up to six months for them to arrive.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has asked the European Union to contribute a temporary force of 3,000 troops until the U.N. reinforcements arrive. Belgium and France have endorsed the idea, but others, including Britain and Germany have been skeptical.

European foreign ministers discussed the issue Monday in Brussels, and top EU diplomat Javier Solana said a decision could come this week. EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel, is also scheduled to travel to Eastern Congo later in the week.

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