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Congo Rebels to Attend Peace Conference Despite Nkunda Ban

Congolese President Joseph Kabila's announcement that rebel General Laurent Nkunda is not welcome at a peace conference underway in eastern Congo, will not cause rebels to pull out of the talks, a top rebel representative says. Noel King has more in this report from Kigali.

Rebels will stay the course, despite Congolese President Joseph Kabila's announcement that their leader, Laurent Nkunda is not welcome at the ongoing peace conference, Kambasu Ngeve told VOA.

Ngeve, who heads the delegation of Nkunda's National Congress for the People's Defense, CNDP, reacted strongly to reports that rebels might leave the talks in protest.

"It is not true. It is not true. We think that our delegation must continue. This is not a problem for the CNDP," he said.

The conference aims to put an end to severe ethnic strife that displaced more than 500,000 people in eastern Congo in 2007, and sent incidents of rape and recruitment of children into armed groups spiraling.

Nkunda says he is trying to protect Congolese Tutsis from Hutu militias with links to the Rwandan genocide.

The Congolese army was defeated by Nkunda's much smaller rebel movement in December.

President Joseph Kabila made a surprise visit to the conference Tuesday in the eastern capital of Goma.

But Kabila said Nkunda's troubles with the law make him ineligible for participation in the talks.

Nkunda was branded a war criminal by the Congolese administration after his forces captured the city of Bukavu in 2004, reportedly killing and raping civilians.

Some analysts say they are baffled by Mr. Kabila's decision not to meet with Nkunda.

Aloys Tegera is an analyst with Congo's Pole Institute.

"In the end, we do have two protagonists: Nkunda and Kabila. Somehow, somewhere, any lasting peace in the short term and the longer term will have to face this kind of consultations between Nkunda and Kabila," he explained. "We cannot avoid this."

Organizers have said the conference is on track, but many participants say it has been beset by delays and boycotts.