Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fears rise that Congo's war will draw in other countries

As regional peace efforts were pursued, the Congolese government refused to meet one on one with the rebels.

By MICHELLE FAUL and TODD PITMAN, Associated Press - November 4, 2008

Accusations flew Tuesday that Angola, Zimbabwe and Rwanda were mobilizing forces to fight in Congo, where rebels forces have launched an offensive against the government.

The accusations of foreign involvement, reminiscent of a disastrous 1998-2002 war that drew in eight African nations, stoked fears of a wider conflict.

The current fighting in eastern Congo has displaced tens of thousands of people who have been left to struggle through the countryside.

In Kibati, a camp for thousands of the displaced just north of Goma, aid workers from the Los Angeles-based International Medical Corps gave water and high-energy biscuits Tuesday to thousands of hungry children lined up in the searing heat.

Outside the distribution center, thousands of children who had not received the tokens needed to receive food shoved and pushed, holding their hands out in supplication. "The people here don't have food, and they are hungry," said Oxfam's Rebecca Wynn. "Some people are going into the banana fields around the camp, which is very dangerous because there are drunk soldiers around."

Prime minister on the scene

Congolese Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito arrived in Goma on Tuesday with half his Cabinet and met with U.N. envoy Alan Doss and U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy as well as local officials. He planned to meet with refugees today to assess the humanitarian crisis.

Despite a week-old cease-fire, rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi who has backing from Rwanda, vowed that his insurgents would march on the capital, Kinshasa, after the government refused Nkunda's demand for direct talks.

"If they won't negotiate with us, then they leave us little choice," rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said. "We will start fighting again, and we will continue until we take Kinshasa."

Congolese Communications Minister Lambert Mende said President Joseph Kabila was "open for dialogue" with all rebel and militia groups in the region but would not meet Nkunda's group alone.

Suggestions that other African nations were being drawn into the conflict added urgency to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's attempts to bring Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame together for talks. Ban hopes to meet the two Thursday at an African Union summit on the crisis in Nairobi, Kenya.