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Cease-fire holding in Congo, U.N. official says

  • Story Highlights
  • U.N. official: Besieged Democratic Republic of Congo city more calm
  • Thousands in refugee center in Goma haven't eaten for days, ITN reporter says
  • U.N. aid convoy travels into rebel-held territory to deliver medical supplies
  • Rebels declared cease-fire last week
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(CNN) -- A fragile cease-fire between government troops and rebels threatening the Democratic Republic of Congo city of Goma is holding but the situation remains tense, U.N. officials said Monday evening.

"The city itself is calm," said Alan Doss, a special representative in the country for U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon. "There are a lot of people on the streets now. People are going about their business."

Alain LeRoy, the under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations, said the situation in the besieged city has improved.

"The level of looting and violence in Goma is much lower than it was just a few days ago," LeRoy said in a news conference with Doss from Africa.

Earlier Monday, another U.N. official said the situation remained tense nonetheless, as rebels have surrounded the city.

"The forces on the ground are still very close to each other," Sylvie van den Wildenberg, the United Nations mission spokeswoman in Goma, said Monday.

A curfew remained in effect in Goma from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time Monday, three days after an offensive by the rebels, van den Wildenberg told CNN by telephone.

The latest fighting started on October 24 when Congolese rebels led by renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda launched an attack in the eastern province of North Kivu.

"We want security. We want to have a national army and a strong army who can secure [its] people. ... We want to have a stable economy," Nkunda said in a recent interview with CNN affiliate Channel 4 in London. "If I can get it by talks, it can be a good way. But if not, we are ready to give our blood."

Nkunda is the leader of the National Congress for the Defense of the People. His forces declared a cease-fire late Wednesday after four days of fighting.

In New York, the U.N. secretary general said he appointed Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, as his special envoy to the area.

"There can be no military solution to the crisis in eastern Congo," Ban said. "Our efforts must focus on political negotiations."

Ban also said Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame had "expressed willingness" to meet with him, possibly this weekend or early next week. Ban said he is willing to travel to Africa if necessary.

Congo has accused Rwanda of interfering on the side of the rebels. Rwanda has denied the allegations.

The secretary-general said that a regional summit is being organized by the African Union as well, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, or elsewhere later this month.

A 12-vehicle U.N. convoy carrying emergency medical supplies and water, escorted by U.N. peacekeepers, left Goma and arrived Monday in rebel-held Rutshuru.

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It was the first time humanitarian aid had been delivered in rebel-held territory since fighting started in August.

Thousands of residents who fled the rebels and are housed in a refugee center in Goma have not eaten for five days, and food is not expected for another day or two, said ITN Africa correspondent Martin Geissler.

Thousands of other displaced residents have left Goma and headed back to their villages in rebel-controlled areas despite reports of widespread raping and looting. Video Watch the diplomatic efforts »

"The situation here is absolutely desperate," Geissler said. "They are starving, so many of them, and thousands are taking to the road home."

Up to 100,000 people, around 60 percent of whom are children, fled their homes last week, a U.N. agency said Monday. About 250,000 people are believed to have been displaced in the last two months, bringing the total number of internally displaced to about 1 million, the agency said.

Part of the convoy's mission is to assess safety and whether further shipments are possible, van den Wildenberg said.

Western diplomats have been shuttling between Goma and Kigali, in neighboring Rwanda, to meet with leaders in order to get a peace process back on track.

"All leaders in the region need to know that it's clear that the world is watching, not just the world's TV crews, but the world's political leaders are determined to make sure that there's not repeat of the murderous activities of the 1990s," said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Photo See photos of the refugee camps »

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His French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, spoke about the need to protect the refugees, calling their predicament "unbearable."

"There are 1.3 to 1.6 million refugees who are in a disastrous situation," Kouchner said. "We need to resolve this."

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

All About Laurent NkundaDemocratic Republic of the CongoUnited NationsRwanda

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