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Civil war in Congo still going on

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  • Civil war in Congo still going on

    The position of Congolese rebel leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda underscores his considerable power, as the international community scrambles to coerce the rebel into a lasting peace agreement in the mineral-rich nation.

    For now, it appears Mr. Nkunda, poised to overrun the key city of Goma, is in charge. His forces fired five rockets at United Nations convoys trying to protect civilians this week, according to the U.N. On Wednesday, he stopped short of overtaking Goma, a strategic city on the Rwanda border. He declared a cease-fire and demanded direct talks with the government, appearing to use Goma as a bargaining chip.

    His current demands: talks about a $9 million Congolese deal with China that would exchange minerals for infrastructure projects, and the disarming of a Rwandan Hutu militia that he says is supported by the Congolese government.

    Meanwhile, the U.N. said its 17,000-strong Congo mission, Monuc, a French acronym describing the group's role, is "stretched to the limit." Because it lacks the numbers to protect civilians in the countryside, it is largely limited to preventing Mr. Nkunda from overtaking large population centers -- and hoping he relents.

    "This fight has put on the road thousands and thousands of people who are hungry, and dying from diseases because of the war," said Michel Bonnardeaux, a Monuc spokesman.

    Mr. Nkunda began assembling his rebel forces in 2005 when he quit the Congolese army. This followed a bloody five-year war that began in 1998 when Rwandan Tutsis invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo in pursuit of Hutu perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. After a peace deal gave way to gangs sparring over land and resources, Mr. Nkunda was determined to protect Tutsis from persecution.

    More than four million people have been killed in the country since 1988, mostly from disease and starvation.

    Congo had a breakthrough in 2006, when democratic elections ushered in President Joseph Kabila. But the government was still shaky and the army too weak to provide much security in a country slightly larger than Western Europe.

    Mr. Nkunda often speaks to reporters from a cellphone in the forest. (He wasn't available for an interview Thursday afternoon, his spokesman said, because he was out of network range.)

    International groups have sharply criticized Mr. Nkunda's forces, accusing them of committing acts of violence and intimidation against Hutu people that François Grignon, director of the International Crisis Group's Africa program, said should be considered "atrocious war crimes, and crimes against humanity."

    Most analysts agree it will take considerable pressure from African and Western nations, as well as China, now a major influence in the region, to reach a peaceful resolution. Such global coordination is unlikely to come soon, if ever.

    Just why Rwanda can still use the excuse of the 1993 genocide to meddle in its neighbour's domestic policy is a mystery to me.

    The Tutsi militias who roam free in this country are directly responsible for the civil war that killed directly or indirectly 5 million people in Congo. But Rwanda is America and UK's ally in the region, so there's nothing we can do.