GOMA- Congolese President Joseph Kabila met the top U.N. official in his country and foreign ambassadors yesterday to decide whether to negotiate with a rebel eastern general or to try to destroy him by force.
General Laurent Nkunda, who has been battling government troops in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s North Kivu province, ignored a government-set deadline on Monday for his fighters to start disbanding and rejoin the national army.
His refusal to obey the ultimatum has raised fears of an imminent all-out offensive by Congo’s armed forces against Nkunda’s positions in the eastern province, where the fighting has driven thousands of civilians from their homes.
Reflecting international concern over the expected government offensive, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, William Swing and several foreign ambassadors met Kabila at his request in the North Kivu provincial capital Goma.
“We’ll be expressing our worries and concerns,” Kabila’s spokesman Kudura Kasongo told Reuters at the provincial governor’s palace where the talks were being held.
The British, South African, French and Belgian ambassadors and the acting U.S. mission head were among those present.
Earlier, Kabila, who flew to the troubled region on Sunday, had said he wasn’t interested in negotiations anymore.
In an interview with the BBC, Gen. Nkunda said that he had sent an envoy to meet President Kabila in Goma to try and avoid conflict and agree a ceasefire but he had not had a reply as yet.
“We cannot integrate (our army) under fire.”
Earlier, Gen. Nkunda said that if the government were to attack Mushaki, “we will defend ourselves”. He said he was not ready to integrate his men into the government army and vowed to defend his position.
He said eastern Congo was occupied by “negative forces” - a reference to Hutu rebel groups.
“This is not normal and the government must accept to discuss this issue,” he said. Gen. Nkunda said he wanted discussions on the return of Congolese Tutsi refugees from neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Burundi.
“Other refugees are coming back, but the Tutsi are not coming back,” he said.
“We ask the government to protect the Tutsi.”
Both the army and Gen Nkunda accuse each other of breaking a recent ceasefire.
DR Congo’s government sees Gen. Nkunda as a criminal, and does not regard him as a legitimate negotiating partner.
Gen. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect DR Congo’s Tutsi minority and has accused the government of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - Hutus who fled to DR Congo fearing reprisals from the Tutsi-led government that took control of Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide.
The fighting in North Kivu province has raised concerns about thousands of displaced people who have been forced out of their homes.
Aid workers say people are heading further north into rebel-held territory, where they are now unable to reach them. The army scored their first real victory against Gen Nkunda’s forces with the capture of Karuba last week.