Talks aimed at finding a solution to fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have begun in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The meeting is expected to provide the first direct talks between the government and rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda, but neither Nkunda nor Congolese president Joseph Kabila are in attendance.
At the opening of the conference, the U.N.'s special envoy, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, described the need for a ceasefire and agreement to allow access for humanitarian aid in eastern Congo. Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula pledged the support of the international community, but said the parties to the conflict would need to take responsibility.
"The International Community is here with you, to support you, to encourage you, to assist you, but at the end of the day we expect enormous responsibility great unanimity, patriotism to your country and above all the realization that the pictures and clips that we have been seeing on international TV screens remains a terrible indictment to all of us Africans, you Congolese in particular," said Wetangula.
Meeting is first opportunity for direct talks between rebels, government
The meeting offers the first possibility for direct talks between the Congolese government and the CNDP since fighting resumed in August. But with neither Congolese president Joseph Kabila, nor rebel leader Laurent Nkunda present, the prospects for progress are limited. The rebel delegation is headed by Nkunda's deputy, Serge Kambasu Ngeve, while the government is represented by Minister for Regional Cooperation Raymond Tshibanda and the governor of North Kivu province, Julien Paluku.
Representatives from other armed groups operating in eastern Congo have also been invited, and it remains unclear what their role will be. The rebels have threatened to abandon the negotiations unless there are direct talks with the government.
The government, has repeatedly insisted that any negotiation must follow the existing negotiating framework that involves all of the 20 armed groups in the region.
January agreement has not led to peace
Nkunda and the government signed a peace agreement in January, but fighting resumed in August. So far some 250,000 people have been displaced. The United Nations said on Monday that 30,000 people have fled across the border into Uganda.
After advancing to the edge of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, Nkunda declared a unilateral ceasefire, and for the past month government and rebel forces have remained in a standoff.
The United Nations has approved the deployment of an additional 3,000 peacekeepers to the region. With 17,000 troops, the current peacekeeping force is the largest in the world, but spread over a large area, has struggled to prevent fighting.
European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss an appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send a temporary force of 3,000 European troops, who would stay until the U.N. reinforcements arrived.