Democratic Republic of Congo rebels loyal to renegade army general Laurent Nkunda have denied reports that they would advance into United Nations- monitored buffer zones in eastern Congo. The National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebels accused President Joseph Kabila's government of disseminating false information to control the minds of the residents in the restive North Kivu province. This followed the rebels' refusal to sign a declaration to effectively mark an end to hostilities with President Kabila's government. Julius Musafari is a resident of the restive North Kivu province. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from the capital, Goma the rebels' refusal to sign the peace deal sent shivers down the spines of many North Kivu residents.
"The report that we got at least about two weeks ago was rumors that the rebels were preparing an imminent attack on Goma and all of us really were afraid. But afterwards the rebels really denied the reports. And when you look on the ground there are no preparations on the side of the rebels to launch an attack. This is what I can tell you so far," Musafari noted.
He said residents of north Kivu province have been adversely affected by the clashes between the national army and the rebels.
"The refusal of the rebels to sign this peace agreement has created panic somehow among the locals, and especially, here in Goma. And as you know the rebels are not that far from this town almost about 10 kilometers just north of the town. So, this has created some sort of panic among the locals," he said.
Musafari said residents in the restive North Kivu province worry that the refusal of the rebels to sign the cessations of hostilities agreement would lead to the escalation of violent clashes between the national army and the rebels.
"Yes, we are actually scared, but we don't look at it as it is going to happen here in Goma but it could happen in the other parts of Northern Kivu, especially in the zone of Masisi and also the way leading to the grand north, and so on. But as really in Goma, we are not really scared because as you know the town is secured by UN forces as well as government forces. And we are convinced that even Nkunda himself cannot take that risk to engage with UN forces," Musafari pointed out.
He agreed with most of the residents who complained about what they described as the poor job done by the United Nations Mission (MONUC) in the region.
"Absolutely, the UN forces or MONUC forces could have done more, but for the time being we thought that some reinforcement, especially in the vicinity of the airport and even near by the border. So, this has created the hope among the locals and we think that for the time being the UN would protect us," he said.
Although the rebel negotiators in Kenya's capital, Nairobi called for representatives of the Congolese national assembly and senate to act as facilitators at the talks, the demand was rejected by President Kabila's government. Still both sides said they were committed to the talks.
Meanwhile, following several days of U.N.-backed talks in Nairobi, Kenya, the CNDP loyal to Nkunda declined to recommit to their own unilaterally declared ceasefire in restive North Kivu province. Their refusal has raised fears that the fragile truce might collapse leading to a renewal of fighting which had already driven more than a quarter of a million civilians from their homes since August and triggered a humanitarian emergency in the region.