Source: AFP

DR Congo rebel leader slams planned beef-up of UN troops

 RUTSHURU, DR Congo (AFP) — Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda on Saturday slammed the planned deployment of extra UN troops in Democratic Republic of Congo saying they could not usher in peace as he held his first rally in an eastern town he seized last month.

About 1,500 people gathered at an overgrown stadium at Rutshuru, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Goma -- the main city in Nord-Kivu province -- to see the cashiered general, a persistent thorn in the side of President Joseph Kabila.

Nkunda arrived in style in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with tinted glasses, flanked by bodyguards and armed fighters and wielding his trademark cane, topped with an eagle's head, and sporting gold rimmed sunglasses.

He launched a strong warning to locals not to accept the additional 3,000 peacekeepers from the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC.

"They are sending another 3,000 blue helmets and you are applauding. You are mistaken!" said the rangy Pentecostal Christian who sometimes sports badges saying "Rebels for Christ" in a speech peppered with Biblical references.

"We will not accept outsiders coming in to provide security for us here," he thundered. "Either you help us in the revolution or you keep quiet with MONUC. But if you wait for MONUC to bring you peace, you can wait forever."

"We must unite to work to ensure our security. Every day you ask for something more but how long will you go on begging?"

There are now 17,000 troops from 18 nations, including 4,000 from India, in MONUC -- the biggest UN peacekeeping operation in the world. About 5,000 of them are in Nord-Kivu.

Nkunda, also urged the region's disparate ethnic groups to "cohabit" peacefully.

"There is only one solution, that we co-exist peacefully," he said. "There is enough place for even foreigners."

In a display of unabashed showmanship, Nkunda danced with young women and assiduously wooed the crowd, which was entertained with French songs and an energetic jig performed by barefooted pygmy dancers.

However, locals said many people shunned the event out of fear, adding that they had suffered rape, looting and other violence.

Innocent, a young student, said he was heartened by Nkunda's appeal to the different ethnic groups to live in harmony, but added: "He said we can move freely but we cannot."

"At night there is sexual violence, extortion and he did not let us bring up these problems," he said.

Long simmering tensions between Nkunda and Kabila spilled over into a new conflict in August with the rebels accusing the government of discriminating against Congo's Tutsi minority, to which Nkunda belongs.

Nkunda's fighters withdrew from two key frontlines in Nord-Kivu this week, ostensibly to boost a peace mission by UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, who is seeking to end the conflict and the ensuing humanitarian disaster.

But they remain poised outside Goma, where the conflict is centred.

Obasanjo was due to return to Congo next Saturday, Nkunda said, but the United Nations did not immediately confirm the claim.

The UN peacekeeping force has been criticised for failing to protect the estimated 250,000 people displaced by the fighting, and atrocities by both the rebels and government forces.

With the UN Security Council on Thursday having approved 3,000 reinforcements for MONUC, a Kinshasa government spokesman urged a new approach.

"It needs a mandate that is a lot more appropriate to the circumstances on the ground," Lamert Mende Omalanga told AFP.

A Congolese journalist with the UN-sponsored Radio Okapi was meanwhile shot dead late Friday at Bukavu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the radio said, with MONUC expressing "concern" about the event.

Didace Namujimbo "was returning home last night. He was shot down a few metres from his home," the radio's editor in chief Leonard Mulamba told AFP.

Many armed groups, pro-government militias and rebels, operate in the unstable region which borders on Nord-Kivu, scene of fighting for nearly three months between the army and Nkunda's rebels.

The MONUC said there was a lull in fighting for a second straight day Saturday with no incidents reported in Nord-Kivu.

Source: AFP

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