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UN Chief Names Special Envoy for DRC Crisis

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has named a former Nigerian president as his special envoy to help resolve the crisis in violence-wracked Eastern Congo. Mr. Ban also said Monday, that he is willing to go himself to Africa to meet with the presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to help facilitate an end to the crisis. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Mr. Ban told reporters he nominated former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as his special envoy.

"He will work with the leaders of the region and international community to bring about a lasting political solution," he said. "I expect all those with a stake in region's future - the Security Council, the African Union and the European Union - to support him to the fullest."

The secretary-general said that with a cease-fire now in place, it is essential that aid workers be granted unhindered access to the tens-of-thousands of people who have been displaced by the violence.

Mr. Ban said he is willing to travel to Africa in the coming days to meet with President Joseph Kabila of Congo and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to discuss the crisis. He said both leaders have expressed a willingness to meet with him.

Mr. Ban said he is happy the two leaders have begun a direct dialogue, although they have not yet met face-to-face.

The government of Congo has accused Rwanda of backing rebel leader Laurent Nkunda's forces, which launched a recent offensive around the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Nkunda says he is protecting eastern Congo's Tutsi minority ethnic group from attacks by the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group, that Nkunda claims has received support from Congo's military.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Ban's special envoy for Congo, Alan Doss, spoke to reporters via video link from Goma. He said the cease-fire is holding and that U.N. peacekeepers continue to patrol the city. But he again stressed that the 17,000-strong force is over-stretched.

"We have approximately one soldier for every 10,000 citizens in the Kivus," he said. "We have 10,000 soldiers, roughly, in the Kivus for 10 million people. So that shows you the scale of challenge we face as we go forward."

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy, who is also in Goma, asked the Security Council last month to send additional forces to Congo. The council still has not made a decision on that request. In the meantime, the United Nations is trying to reconfigure its force within the country to send more troops to the Goma area.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he hopes member states will be able to provide the necessary additional resources to the mission. Currently, there is only one battalion of about 900 peacekeepers in the Goma region.