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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 22:33 GMT
DR Congo rebel 'ready for peace'
Gen Laurent Nkunda - file photo
Gen Nkunda says his forces are protecting the area's Tutsis
The rebel general fighting government forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo says he is ready for a political solution to the conflict.

General Laurent Nkunda was speaking to the BBC in his first interview since his troops recaptured territory lost in a government offensive last week.

He said the Congolese government must first disarm the Rwandan Hutu rebels he claims are attacking ethnic Tutsis.

Government forces had taken the town of Mushake, claiming a "major victory".

With Mushake and the surrounding hills back in his possession, Gen Nkunda said it was time for "Congolese to live in peace".

The problem is that on the government sites there are Hutu rebels who are armed and their ideology is to kill only Tutsi
Gen Nkunda

"We said for a long time that the war cannot finish a political problem," he told the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman.

"Political problems asked for political solutions."

Gen Nkunda said his forces were protecting DR Congo's Tutsi population from Rwandan Hutu rebels - both Interahamwe militia and former Rwandan armed forces - who have lived in eastern DR Congo since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

He said it was too dangerous for people displaced from their homes by the recent fighting to go to government camps because Rwandan Hutu rebels would have easy access to them.

"The problem is that on the government sites there are Hutu rebels who are armed and their ideology is to kill only Tutsi, so they cannot live on the sites of the government if the government is working with those negative forces."

Smell of death

Last week's government offensive was intended to show the people that it could protect the ethnic Tutsi population, but the campaign now seems to be in disarray.

Family driven out by fighting near Goma.
Thousands of families have fled the fighting in eastern DR Congo
Mushake is mostly inhabited by Tutsis, says our correspondent, who make a living herding cattle.

But the town is mostly deserted now, except for Gen Nkunda's rebel fighters and the smell of decaying corpses, says our correspondent.

The United Nations estimates that about 60,000 people have fled the fighting in North Kivu in the last week alone.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, called for a political solution to the conflict as he visited a camp on Friday near the provincial capital, Goma, where he heard people's stories of killings, rape and razed houses.

Health experts said the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in North Kivu this year was leading to outbreaks of disease.

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