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Congolese Rebel Leader Seeks Peace

A renegade Congolese general who shattered a U.N.-mediated ceasefire earlier this week has performed a hasty turnaround, demanding a halt to the violence that has killed dozens of his men. Nick Wadhams has the story for VOA from Nairobi.

On Wednesday, General Laurent Nkunda vowed to keep fighting in the North Kivu province until Congolese President Joseph Kabila agreed to incorporate his forces in eastern Congo into the national army. But now he is suggesting that the humanitarian toll of the latest violence is too high.

Nkunda tells VOA that recent artillery shelling by government forces, known as FARDC, have hit a heavily populated area in eastern Congo where his men have been fighting. He says that has forced thousands of people to flee.

"There is a problem in this area of Masisi. It is a very populated area. Now we are seeing movement of population and the bombs of long-range artillery weapons of FARDC, so I saw that if we continue they can do many bad things against the population, so I asked for the ceasefire so we can limit the problem of this area," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of people already fled their homes in recent months because of fighting between Nkunda's forces and the government. The two sides had agreed to a ceasefire last month, but Nkunda says he was forced to break it because government troops were attacking him.

Nkunda, who is Tutsi, says he is protecting people in eastern Congo from Hutu militiamen who crossed into Congo after the Rwanda genocide. He launched a rebellion in 2004 to protect the Tutsi and accuses the government of supporting the Hutu.

Nkunda says that violence perpetrated by the Hutu militias against civilians was another reason why he wants the ceasefire restored. Yet at the same time, Nkunda says he is not going to be the first to lay down arms. The Congolese government has given no indication that it will agree to a new ceasefire.

"Until now, there is no response, and even now this morning we are under their attack. So for us, we think that we are going to continue the pressure for peace, for negotiation, for integration and not for fighting," added Nkunda.

Despite Nkunda's call, it appears doubtful that eastern Congo will see a halt to violence anytime soon. Reports from the region suggest that up to 100 of his rebels have been killed in fighting since Monday, amid signs that the government may seek to push its advantage. The government claims to have recaptured several towns in the region.