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Renewed Congo Fighting Highlights Flaws in Peace Accord

Renewed fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has raised fears of a new regional war, despite years of diplomatic efforts and several peace accords. Experts say this is because the accords did not address all issues and have not been completely implemented. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

After two years of relative calm, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo appears once again on the brink of war.

In September, rebels of the National Congress for the Defense of the People withdrew from the Goma peace accord between the Congolese government and several-dozen combatant groups.

C.N.D.P. leader Laurent Nkunda said this was because Congolese government forces and allied militias continue to attack his people.

"It is not Nkunda that declared the war. No. they declared the war and were attacking me even when we were in peace talks," he said.

Nkunda's forces reportedly are also being attacked by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. The forces are the remnants of Rwandan Hutu militias that fled to eastern Congo after the 1994 genocide in which 800,000, mostly Rwandan Tutsis, were killed.

Nkunda said he is defending Tutsi-speaking Congolese, whose forefathers immigrated to Congo during the colonial era. He said they are also under attack from Mai-Mai militias, which said they are defending the original inhabitants of the region.

A military analyst with South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, Henri Boshoff, said a main reason for the renewed violence is weakness in the Goma accord, especially in demobilization, disarmament and re-integration, or D.D.R.

"One of the very first things is the fact that the D.D.R. or security sector reform process in the eastern DRC has not been completed," he said. "And then secondly, the agreement that has been signed, there are some unrealistic issues that we know are not implementable," said Boshoff.

He said the Goma agreement calls for Nkunda's forces to be demobilized outside their home region in North Kivu, but this is not acceptable to them.

In addition, the former Hutu militias said they will not return to Rwanda until a political settlement is reached with the government in Kigali.

Analyst Muzong Kodi of Britain's Chatham House said this is a war over natural resources in a region rich in gold, diamonds and timber.

"A lot of the militias fighting in eastern Congo are controlling mining areas and [are] taking a lot of money out. They have no incentives to leave those areas."

The fighting has led to massacres and atrocities against civilians. One-quarter-million people have been displaced in recent months, leading to fears of another humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations Mission to the Congo, MONUC, has deployed 17,000 peacekeepers that are authorized to use force to protect civilians. But Boshoff said MONUC is criticized as ineffective.

"They need a re-think, about the U.N. mission, MONUC, not [its] mandate per se, but how they implement it. How they use force, the rules of engagement and the problem with some of the forces not willing to implement what they are told to do," Boshoff said.

Nkunda has accused the U.N. forces of failing to defend his people and of failing to quell violence against civilians by government forces and their allies. The U.N. mission denies the accusation.

Kodi of Chatham House said the international community should look for a new approach to the problem.

"It appears that all the carrots that could be used to get those people out of the mining areas have failed." he said. "So one would imagine that some big stick has to be used to solve the problem there and especially to protect the civilians who have been put in harm's way by the various warring parties," said Kodi.

Boshoff said the first step toward ending the fighting is new negotiations which he said began with the recent meetings of the African Union in Nairobi and southern African leaders in Johannesburg.

"Also in the short term, you need to deploy a credible military force to stop the fighting. And in my opinion the only force that can do this at this stage is the European Union or the European Battle Group," he said.

The European Union is studying the possibility of sending E.U. troops to Congo, but wants other measures taken first.

The fighting has aggravated tensions between Congo and Rwanda, which is accused of supporting Nkunda's forces. Boshoff said the only solution here is direct negotiations between Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

"The international community has to get the two key role players, that is Kabila and Kagame, together," he said. And they will have to resolve the issue of the F.D.L.R., of Nkunda and the militias. They will have to address that. Otherwise this war will never end," said Boshoff.

Senior Congolese officials recently threatened to seek military support from Angola, which brought back memories of the Congolese civil war of the late 1990s. That war involved six African governments, caused the death of three million Congolese and led to an economic crash from which the country has yet to recover.