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Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Monday, 17 November 2008

Congo rebel advance breaks truce

A Congolese soldier sentenced to life in prison at a military court in Goma, 17 November 2008
A military court in Goma was reported to have sentenced four army soldiers

Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic have gone on the offensive despite declaring a ceasefire, the UN says.

The latest fighting has been in and around the town of Rwindi, about 125km (75 miles) north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

The rebels say they have seized the town and a UN spokesman says they have continued to advance further north.

The fighting comes as UN envoy Olusegun Obasanjo continues efforts to broker an end to the conflict.

A reporter for the AP news agency in Rwindi says rebels are walking around the town freely.

"This shows they're not respecting their own ceasefire they've declared," AP quoted UN peacekeeping spokesman Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich as saying.

Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa told the AFP news agency that government troops had been pushed back to Vitshumbi, north-east of Rwindi.

"The government forces are stuck at Vitshumbi, they have no choice but to run away across the lake or through the forest.

"We are going to... silence the government forces. We are going to impose a ceasefire on them."

Mediation

Meanwhile, AFP reports that four government soldiers have been sentenced to life in prison by a military court in Goma for rape, deserting their posts and looting.

The Congolese army is seen as weak and ill-disciplined.

FORCES AROUND GOMA
Congolese rebel soldiers
CNDP: Gen Nkunda's Tutsi rebels - 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus - 6-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia - 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers - 6,000 in North Kivu, including about 1,000 in Goma (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army - 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

In talks with Mr Obasanjo on Sunday, Gen Nkunda said he would support a peace process with the government.

He also agreed to ceasefire monitors, as long as they did not include UN peacekeepers, whom he accuses of bias.

The government of DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila has to date rejected rebel calls for direct negotiation.

Mr Obasanjo said it would take effort from both sides to keep a truce.

Following the meeting in the rebel-held town of Jomba, Mr Obasanjo travelled to Kigali in neighbouring Rwanda, which the DR Congo government accuses of supporting the rebellion.

He then continued to Kenya for further mediation.

An estimated 250,000 people have been made homeless by weeks of fighting between rebels and government troops.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan FDLR Hutu rebels who fled to DR Congo after the 1994 genocide.

The Congolese army has been accused of working with the FDLR fighters to exploit eastern DR Congo's rich mineral resources.

In a recent BBC interview, Gen Nkunda said he wanted to take over the whole of Congo.

This was obviously propaganda, says the BBC's Mark Doyle, but it scared many Congolese people because on the whole they believe that Gen Nkunda is backed by Rwanda which, though small, is powerful.

Rwanda, for its part, says Congo backs an anti-Rwandan government militia force based in the Congolese forest, our correspondent adds.

The UN says the conflict that began in August between Gen Nkunda's fighters and government forces has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

Map of eastern DR Congo



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