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Diplomatic Activity Builds to Halt Eastern Congo Clashes

Diplomatic activity aimed at ending the violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is intensifying. The United Nations mediator for eastern Congo, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, arrived Thursday in Kinshasa for talks with Congolese officials, while talks between the Congolese government and eastern rebels continued in Kenya.

Mr. Obasanjo is due to go to Rwanda Friday. His trip is aimed at easing tensions that have been severely strained by clashes in eastern Congo between Congolese forces and several militias.

The defense ministers of the two countries met last month and signed an agreement under which a Rwandan Hutu militia in eastern Congo would be disarmed.

Members of the militia, called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, fled to Congo 14 years ago after participating in the Rwandan genocide of Tutsi's and moderate Hutu's.

The Rwandan government has accused Kinshasa of supporting the militia, which the Congolese government denies.

At the same time, Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of supporting rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People. Nkunda ended a fragile cease-fire in September accusing Congolese forces and the militia of attacking Congolese Tutsi's.

A Congo analyst with London's Chatham House, Muzong Kodi, says prospects for a diplomatic solution to the violence are slim until a stronger military presence is established in the region to bolster peacekeepers of the U.N. Mission to Congo, MONUC.

"I don't think the hand of the mediator is going to be strong enough without a substantial force on the ground. I don't think MONUC in its present situation is that kind of force that we need," said Kodi.

He says MONUC peacekeepers are too few and too weak to stop the violence.

France and Belgium last month proposed sending several thousand European Union peacekeepers. But Britain and Germany have opposed this saying they wanted other measures taken first.

Direct talks between the Nkundu forces and the Congolese government resumed this week in Nairobi but have been slowed by an apparent split within the rebel group.

Analyst Kodi says the various combatants are manipulating ethnic tensions in order to allow them to continue to exploit the region's considerable natural resources.

"This situation of no-peace, no-war actually allows them to continue to loot the resources of eastern Congo and they have no incentive whatsoever to stop the conflict," said Kodi.

The latest fighting has displaced one-quarter million people and disrupted humanitarian efforts. It has also sparked fears of renewed civil war such was seen in the late 1990s in which several million Congolese died.