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DRC Rebel Delegates Return to Peace Conference

Delegates from a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo have returned to peace talks. The delegation from renegade general Laurent Nkunda's rebel militia pulled out of talks on Thursday saying they feared for their security, but returned on Friday. The conference comes after months of unrest in the volatile eastern DRC, where the army and armed groups have engaged in almost daily clashes that have left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Selah Hennessy brings this report for VOA from the regional capital, Goma.

Peace talks continued in Goma on Friday, with Nkunda's delegation once again in the conference room.

On Thursday, Nkunda's 10 delegates pulled out of the conference, citing what they called a security risk. They said Nkunda's military spokesman had been threatened with arrest by a member of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo.

But now, they say, they have been assured by conference organizers that their security is guaranteed.

Clovis Muni, a conference organizer, says the presence of Nkunda's delegation at the conference is important. He says without the armed groups of North and South Kivu provinces attending, the conference is pointless.

Nkunda, a former general in the Congolese army, has led a rebellion against the government since 2004. He says he is fighting to protect local Tutsis from Rwandan ethnic Hutus.

After a peace deal in January last year, fighting between Nkunda's guerrillas and the army broke out again in August, once again throwing this eastern jungle region into unrest.

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee the violence. Many are now homeless and living without clean water, food, or medical care.

In Goma on Friday, representatives from both the Hutu and Tutsi communities spoke at the conference.

Muni says the conference gives communities the chance to speak about problems they face and suggest solutions.

But some people have criticized the conference. Neither Congo's president Joseph Kabila nor rebel leader Nkunda have so far attended. With almost 1,000 delegates at the conference, many people say little will actually be accomplished.

Conference organizer Muni says Nkunda's delegation will speak at the conference on Saturday morning.