23 January 2009 The top United Nations official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today appealed to the main rebel group involved in the conflict that has raged in country's east to end its rebellion and engage in the path of peace, following the arrest of its leader, the renegade general Laurent Nkunda.
Fighting between Mr. Nkunda's mainly Tutsi rebel militia, the National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP), and Congolese Government forces have uprooted an estimated 250,000 people since late August, on top of the 800,000 already displaced in the region, mainly in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.
Recently the Governments of DRC and Rwanda have been engaged in an ongoing joint military operation in eastern DRC against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed Hutu group which has been in eastern DRC since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
The UN peacekeeping operation in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, said the arrest took place in Rwanda, according to information provided by the Joint Operational Command. “We have no further details at this point,” the mission stated.
“We hope that all CNDP forces will now take this opportunity to enter the integration process and in doing so help to ensure the return of lasting peace to the Kivus,” Alan Doss, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for DRC and head of MONUC said in a news release.
UN-backed talks between DRC and the CNDP began in Nairobi last month in a bid to end the bloody conflict. A spokesperson for the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and Chief Mediator for the talks, Olusegun Obasanjo, announced today that the talks, which had been scheduled to resume on 25 January, will now re-convene at a date to be determined following the upcoming African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
In a related development, the UN refugee agency today voiced its concerns about the military build-up in North Kivu created by the joint operation, noting that the humanitarian situation in the province is already “dramatic.”
“Drawing from our past experience in this region, we fear that these operations could create new and massive displacement of the civilian population,” Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
“We urge all parties to respect international humanitarian principles, to minimize civilian suffering and ensure safe passage for the civilian population away from the combat zones. We also call on the warring sides not to forcibly return Rwandan civilians,” he stated.
UNHCR stressed it is imperative for aid agencies to be able to immediately deliver humanitarian assistance to civilian victims and to have safe and unhindered access to any new spontaneous sites where the displaced population may gather.
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