Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Monday, 24 December 2007

DR Congo: Path to peace?

By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

Gen Laurent Nkunda - file photo
Gen Nkunda says his forces are protecting the area's Tutsis
The Congolese dissident general battling President Joseph Kabila's troops says he wants to take tentative steps towards peace.

In a move designed to unlock the current stalemate in the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, General Laurent Nkunda has called for a ceasefire.

It would allow a peace conference to be held in Goma, the regional capital of North Kivu, on Thursday 27 December.

The strategy, negotiated by Western diplomats in the capital, Kinshasa, is one that envisages the Congolese government responding to Gen Nkunda's ceasefire call with one of their own, possibly on Christmas day.

This would allow a delegation from the general to attend the talks to resolve the long-standing grievances of all concerned.


But diplomatic sources say the strategy has been held up by Congolese hardliners, including Defence Minister Chikez Diemu.

The minister, together with a number of others in government, is hostile to any deal with Gen Nkunda.

Diplomats say this hostility stems from two concerns:

  • A determination to break the hold of Gen Nkunda himself on large areas of North Kivu, where he is seen as a force outside of the control of the central government
  • An attempt to break the power of the Tutsis, like Gen Nkunda, in the region, so that their economic base in the area can be diminished
  • After months of planning, and with UN logistical support, the Congolese army launched a major offensive against Gen Nkunda's forces north and west of Goma on 2 December.

    At first this succeeded and a number of towns and villages fell to their forces.

    But when Gen Nkunda regrouped and counter-attacked, the Congolese army was routed.

    Only UN troops prevented the fall of the strategically important town of Sake.


    Diplomats say Gen Nkunda then attempted to negotiate a disengagement - while preventing the Congolese army and their allies in the Mai-Mai and Hutu militia from taking the ground that they gave up.

    Family driven out by fighting near Goma.
    Thousands of families have fled the fighting in eastern DR Congo

    His men withdrew from three areas, including the important heights around Sake.

    But hardliners in the Congolese military were unhappy about the deal and wanted to resume the fight.

    The call for a ceasefire is part of a strategy to allow the peace conference to get under way.

    A number of sub-committees would be established, to look at issues including security, development, and peace and reconciliation.

    This would then fit into a longer-term process of dialogue, to end the conflict that has plagued North Kivu for years, and led to at least 800,000 people being forced to flee from their homes in the past year.

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