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Rebel general offers aid corridor for Congo

  • Story Highlights
  • Rebel Gen. Nkunda says his cease-fire provides opportunity for aid
  • Despite cease-fire he says his soldiers are surrounding provincial capital of Goma
  • Tens of thousands fleeing violence; soldiers accused of rape, killings, looting
  • U.N.'s biggest peacekeeping mission in world stretched to the limit in Congo
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(CNN) -- The rebel general who ordered a cease-fire for his forces said Thursday he has offered to create a "humanitarian corridor" so aid can safely reach thousands displaced by four days of fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Laurent Nkunda, who leads troops of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, told CNN in a phone interview he wants to start working Friday with the U.N. mission in Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, to allow people back to their homes.

"We are respecting our cease-fire ... We are waiting for the response (to the corridor offer) from the government and from MONUC," he said. "We want to have an agenda that we can discuss political issues with the government."

Nkunda, a Tutsi, has repeatedly blamed the Congolese government for failing to protect the Tutsi tribe from Rwandan Hutu militia in Congo. Hutu rebels have been active in the jungles of eastern Congo since Rwanda's 1994 genocide, according to the United Nations.

The United Nations estimates that during the 100 days of the genocide in Rwanda, the Hutu majority killed 800,000 Tutsis and and moderate Hutus.

In a separate interview Thursday with CNN International, Nkunda said his soldiers were surrounding the provincial capital of Goma, where thousands have fled from displaced persons' camps from the north. The soldiers had moved back to about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away, Nkunda said.

Despite the cease-fire, the situation remains tense as displaced people and citizens continue to seek safety, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Congo said Thursday.

"As of this hour, the information that we have is that the cease-fire is holding in North Kivu (province)," Kevin Kennedy told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York at noon.

An Indian brigade under U.N. auspices spent the night patrolling Goma, Kennedy said. There were reports of gunfire, killings and looting, according to him and Nkunda.

The looting was blamed mostly on Congolese soldiers who committed the crimes on their way out of the city. They were "running amok in various parts of town," Kennedy said.

Nkunda accused government forces of killing people in the city and looting homes.

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Kennedy said MONUC is at a disadvantage in trying to keep the peace.

"We have ... very, very limited resources on the ground," he said. "This is a city of some one million people, and we have a battalion of 850 soldiers there along with some other support units.

"And we have a foreign police unit there. But the fact is that MONUC's ability to cover this entire city and to ensure the protection of every individual is simply not there."

Kennedy said reinforcements were brought in from elsewhere in the Congo, including about 90 Guatemalan special forces, a police unit and an attack helicopter. "It is a very, very tense situation."

Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch in London, told CNN her organization had documented that more than 20 people were killed in Goma overnight. "People are confused. They are scared," she said of the overall crisis.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts intensified to find a peaceful, long-term solution to the current conflict.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, was to meet with Congo President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa Thursday, and may travel to Rwanda to see President Paul Kagame, Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington.

Wood said Frazer, who is accompanied by a senior researcher from the National Security Council, will try to "get all of the parties to agree to respect international law and human rights."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also spoke with Kagame and was in touch with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Wood said.

He said four U.S. government employees on temporary assignment in Goma had been relocated to Gisenyi, a city across the border in Rwanda.

All About Laurent NkundaDemocratic Republic of the CongoAfrican PoliticsPeacekeeping and Security

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