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UN Chief Says DRC Fighting is Spreading

A regional summit on the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is under way in Nairobi. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to the fighting and warned that the conflict risked spilling over into the wider sub-region. Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined heads of state from east and central Africa, as well as American and European diplomats, for a summit aimed at putting a halt to the recent fighting in eastern DRC between rebels led by Laurent Nkunda, and Congolese government forces. Mr. Ban called on leaders in the region to put pressure on Nkunda, who has launched a renewed offensive in August, despite signing an agreement with the government in January.

"As leaders of Africa, you have an historic responsibility," he said. "This is a critical moment for the Great Lakes region and for Africa as a whole. We must put the cycle of violence behind us. We must build a shared future of stability, peace, development and human rights for all citizens of your countries. I am determined to work with you to realize these urgent objectives. And I count on your leadership."

Nkunda announced a unilateral cease-fire last week, after advancing to the edge of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, but clashes have resumed in recent days. The U.N. estimates that some 250,000 people have fled their homes since August, bringing the total number of civilians displaced in the region to over one million.

A major goal of the summit will be to improve relations between Congolese President Laurent Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Congo accuses Rwanda of backing Nkunda's forces, while Rwanda and Nkunda say the Congolese government is cooperating with the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia, many of whose members participated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Nkunda claims he is protecting the region's ethnic Tutsi community from attacks by the Hutu militia.

Notably absent from the summit was Nkunda himself. Nkunda has called for direct talks with the Congolese government, but Congo has insisted that any discussion must follow an existing negotiating framework involving all of the various armed groups operating in eastern DRC.

The chairman of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, appeared to echo that position in explaining Nkunda's absence.

"It is only the members of the Great Lakes who have been invited plus a certain number of countries," he said. "But you know that there you have also other groups who are fighting, like Mai Mai."

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, has clashed with the rebels in recent weeks, and has pledged to defend Goma from any attack by Nkunda's forces. But with it's 17,000 troops spread across various parts of the vast country, the force is overstretched. The UN's Special Representative to the DRC, Alan Doss, said the mission had requested additional troops.

"We have asked for a temporary increase to help us deal with the current situation," he said. "We'll see if the Security Council goes along with it we hope they will. It's not just about numbers it's also about capabilities. You can have soldiers but if they can't move around, they can't be re-supplied it doesn't get you far."

On Friday, a group of NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Oxfam called on the European Union and other countries to contribute additional troops to the UN mission, saying peacekeepers have been unable to halt attacks on civilians in recent days.