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Renegade General Hopeful for Obasanjo's Mediation in DRC Conflict

Diplomats are intensifying efforts to bring peace to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but Congo's Tutsi rebels appear to have a growing division within their ranks.

The United Nations mediator for eastern Congo, Olusegun Obasanjo, was in Kinshasa Thursday for meetings with Congolese officials, while mediated talks between the government and rebels continued in Nairobi, Kenya.

But a dissident ethnic Tutsi rebel commander, Bosco Ntaganda, reiterated the claim he had replaced General Laurent Nkunda at the head of the rebel National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). He also said he would help push peace forward.

Journalists said Ntaganda made the announcement Thursday from his farm in Kabati, eastern Congo, surrounded by other rebel commanders and dozens of fighters.

Nkunda's spokesman again denied there had been a change of leadership.

In an exclusive interview with Esther Githui Ewart of VOA's Swahili service, Laurent Nkunda said fighting has temporarily stopped in eastern Congo and that he hopes the U.N. mediator Obasanjo will help with the peace process. Click on audio link in right-hand column.

Mr. Obasanjo is due in Rwanda Friday. Defense ministers from the DRC and Rwanda agreed last month that a Rwandan Hutu militia in eastern Congo, considered responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide, would be disarmed. That promise has been made before but never carried out.

The ethnic Tutsi rebels, who control parts of Congo's North Kivu province, say they are defending Tutsi communities against the Hutu militia, government soldiers and other armed groups.

Fighting has displaced an estimated quarter-million people in North Kivu since August.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.