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DR Congo rebel leader calls truce

Laurent Nkunda
Laurent Nkunda urged the government to declare a ceasefire too

A rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo whose forces are threatening the city of Goma has told the BBC he has declared a ceasefire.

Renegade General Laurent Nkunda urged government troops to follow suit.

Thousands of people have been fleeing an upsurge in fighting in the east in recent days, pouring into Goma.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the violence was "creating a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions" and urged a truce.

Gen Nkunda told the BBC: "We are not far from Goma but because there is a state of destabilisation in the town we decided in our movement to cease fire and unilaterally to proclaim a ceasefire."

He added that the goal of his forces was to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide.

Panic

A BBC correspondent in the city says there was a "stampede" as thousands of displaced people poured into Goma on the third day of fierce fighting in the area.

Fleeing people in eastern DR Congo

Congolese soldiers withdrawing from the village of Kibumba, 30km (20 miles) to the north, also retreated to the city, creating a sense of panic among the population, our correspondent added.

Earlier in Kibumba, our reporter saw an exchange of fire across the Rwandan border. Rwanda denies claims it is backing the rebels.

Correspondents say the 17,000-strong UN force in DR Congo - the world's largest - is stretched to breaking point.

Both Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the head of the UN mission have called for more troops.

The UN security council is to meet in an emergency session to discuss the crisis late on Wednesday.

UK Africa minister Mark Malloch-Brown said the world was mobilising to avoid a repeat of tragedies like the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when the international community looked on as hundreds of thousands were killed.

"We all have those ghosts in the backs of our minds," he told the BBC. "We need to stop this before it escalates to anything like that level."

France, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said it supported sending forces to the area.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that up to 1,500 men could be deployed "in Europe's name within eight to 10 days".

Footage of DR Congo government troops, displaced people and UN peacekeepers

On Tuesday night, supporters of Gen Nkunda took the town of Rutshuru, near the Ugandan border.

Neighbouring Rwanda has been accused of backing the general, who left the army and launched his own rebellion after DR Congo's five-year conflict officially ended in 2003.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Kabila sent two envoys to Rwanda to discuss the crisis.

But the Rwandan government denies it has anything to do with the conflict.

"They have been accusing us but wrongly," Joseph Mutaboba, the Rwandan president's special envoy to the Great Lakes, told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

A peace deal was signed in Goma between the government and various rebel groups at the end of January.

Although he signed the deal, Gen Nkunda has refused to disarm while Rwandan Hutu rebels still operate in the area.

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