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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 05:03 GMT
Volcano disaster 'may help peace bid'
A home ruined by a larva flow
Thousands have been left homeless in DR Congo
The volcano disaster in the Democratic Republic of Congo could help bring an end to its three-year war, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said.

Arriving in the capital Kinshasa for a long-planned peace mission, Mr Straw said the humanitarian crisis following the eruption highlighted the need for co-operation and an end to the fighting.

Mr Straw and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, have adjusted their agenda to include the issue of getting emergency aid to the victims of the Nyiragongo volcano.

During their visit they are considering a trip to the worst affected town of Goma and surrounding areas, where the homes of hundreds of thousands were destroyed.

Rebel-held

The two foreign ministers began their three-day trip, which also includes visits to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, by meeting President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila.


The fighting may have stopped but peace has not yet broken out

Jack Straw
The disaster zone is situated in rebel-held eastern Congo and Mr Straw wants the crisis to underline the need for the two sides to talk.

He said: "Maybe in a small way we'll be able to get across to everybody that if they want to be able better to deal with these natural disasters and tame the natural environment, they need to work with each other rather than against each other."

Mr Vedrine said: "The emotions we feel in the face of this eruption should not keep us from doing our job, which is to break with a logic of war and restore peace to the region."

The war in Congo is Africa's biggest conflict and has left two-million people dead and the country overrun and plundered by occupying forces involving upwards of six countries.

Competitors

Traditionally France and Britain have been seen as colonial competitors in the Congo, with Britain remaining more sympathetic to Rwanda and France backing the DR Congo government.

Jack Straw
Straw is on a peace mission to the region
Despite the differences the two countries are now keen to pool their influence and after their meeting with President Kabila Mr Straw and Mr Vedrine said they were encouraged.

He apparently told them he would do his best to repatriate Hutu troops in his army if Rwanda and Uganda could be persuaded to pull their troops out of rebel-held territory.

Those commitments will be sought on Tuesday, despite both men's understanding that unlocking the vicious circle of this conflict will not be easy.

Emergency aid

Mr Straw's visit took place as the government indicated it may be prepared to increase aid to the areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo devastated by the eruption.

The UK Government has promised 2m in emergency aid to the region, which continues to be shaken by earth tremors.

In a House of Commons statement International Development Minister Hilary Benn expressed sympathy for the plight of those affected by the eruption.

Speaking ahead of his trip, Mr Straw said: "Central Africa is the scene of the biggest war in the world. This conflict has been ignored for too long.

"The region stands at a key moment. The fighting may have stopped but peace has not yet broken out."

Mr Straw said he would push for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, the demobilisation of rebels and a commitment to dialogue between the factions.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"The Foreign Ministers came here with a longer-term aim in mind"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Congo volcano
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See also:

21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
More cash for Congo hint
21 Jan 02 | Africa
UN warns against return to Goma
20 Jan 02 | Africa
In pictures: Eruption aftermath
15 Mar 00 | Europe
Living with a volcano
19 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Volcano teaches deadly lessons
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