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Congo peace talks open with U.N. plea

  • Story Highlights
  • Congo government and rebels in Kenya for peace talks
  • U.N. envoy: Let us open a chapter of peace in Congo
  • Talks hope to end fighting in eastern Congo, open aid corridor, find lasting peace
  • Recent fighting has seen 250,000 people flee their homes
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From David McKenzie
CNN
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NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- The United Nations is mediating talks between the Democratic Republic of Congo's government and its main rebel group in an effort to "stop the hemorrhage" in the central African nation, a U.N. envoy said Monday.

"Let us now get on with it," said former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is now the U.N. envoy to mediate the situation. "The DRC has bled for over 50 years. Let us stop the hemorrhage, let us bind the wounds, let us open a new chapter of durable peace and harmony."

Obasanjo spoke on the opening day of the U.N.-sponsored talks in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, representing the African Union, also attended the talks.

Recent fighting between rebels and government troops has been concentrated in the province of North Kivu in eastern Congo, prompting the displacement of 250,000 people since August.

The U.N. Security Council recently approved sending more than 3,000 troops to bolster the 17,000-strong peacekeeping force already in the region.

Obasanjo said the talks in Nairobi are aimed at resolving three things: a sustained cease-fire in eastern Congo, a safe corridor for humanitarian assistance in the region, and the implementation of a lasting peace in Congo.

"The current humanitarian crisis in the North Kivu province is a scar on the conscience of the world," he said. "We must act quickly to get the internally displaced persons and refugees back to their homes."

The U.N. envoy praised representatives from the Congolese government and the main rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), for taking part in the talks.

"A beginning has to be made between government representatives and CNDP representatives," Obasanjo said.

Fighting broke out in eastern Congo at the end of August between government forces and CNDP rebels under the command of Laurent Nkunda.

It was sparked by lingering tensions over the 1994 slaughter of ethnic Tutsis by majority Hutus in neighboring Rwanda. Nkunda says his forces are fighting to defend Congolese Tutsis from Hutu militants who escaped to Congo.

Nkunda declared a unilateral cease-fire on October 29, but it failed to stop the fighting and reports of atrocities.

Wetangula also expressed his optimism that the talks in Nairobi are the result of "momentum ... that all of us hope and believe will bring to an end the catastrophic activities that we have seen unfold in the Congo."

"The pictures and clips we have been seeing on international TV screens remains a terrible indictment to all of us Africans, you Congolese in particular," the Kenyan foreign minister said.

"I want you to be awake to the fact that the children, the women, the boys and girls that we see on TV every day may be your sons and daughters, may be your brothers and sisters, may be your parents," he said.

"And it is for those that you are here to talk peace."

All About Democratic Republic of the CongoWar and ConflictDiplomacy

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