President Joseph Kabila is seeking to end the rebel activity in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
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GOMA, DR Congo (AFP) - - Rival sides in a bitter conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo inched closer to a settlement but delayed the closure of a peace conference, organisers said Tuesday.
Representatives of some forces involved in fighting that has driven more than a million people from their homes in Nord- and Sud-Kivu provinces were haggling over details before finally agreeing a ceasefire.
"We shall pursue our plenary session tomorrow (Wednesday) and the closing ceremony will probably be tomorrow," Sekimonyo wa Mangengu, one of the chief organisers, told AFP, after the non-combatant delegates met on Tuesday.
The different factions on Monday declared themselves ready to stop fighting and demobilise after getting sight of a historic deal presented to them at the conference in Nord-Kivu province's capital.
Mangengu, the rapporteur general at the conference that started on January 6, opened Tuesday's session in the absence of the armed groups and said other representatives would debate and adopt reports on Nord- and Sud-Kivu provinces.
He made no direct comment on the absence of delegates, but delegates from two of the warring factions told AFP they wanted last-minute clarifications regarding the "act of engagement" they were to sign.
Mangengu said only that conference president Apollinaire Malu Malu and National Assembly speaker Vital Kamerhe, head of the committee of elders, were detained by "other activities".
Malu Malu, a Roman Catholic priest, and Kamerhe on Monday already delayed the end of the conference by a day and presented the rivals with draft peace plans for Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu provinces.
Nord-Kivu, which borders Uganda and Rwanda, has seen heavy fighting since August last year. Sud-Kivu borders Rwanda and Burundi, which have their own history of conflicts.
Members of the National Council for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, who was not at the conference and is based in highlands north and west of Goma, demanded clarifications.
The draft text made no mention of the status of Nkunda, who presents himself as the defender of the Congolese Tutsi minority population. He is wanted by the Kinshasa government under an arrest warrant for war crimes by his men.
Representatives of local tribes who have formed Mai-Mai militia self-defence groups and battled Nkunda's CNDP also said they wished to go over points in the text.
Tuesday's plenary session adjourned because some delegates among more than 1,000 gathered at a university in Goma said they had yet to receive copies of reports from the various workshop groups.
The UN mission in the DRC, MONUC, which in 2003 oversaw the end of a major war, the disengagement of foreign armies and democratic elections, has now deployed 90 percent of its 17,000 peacekeeping troops in the volatile east.
Foreign diplomats attending the talks warned that "recommendations" accepted by the conference to restore peace and the authority of the state in the east would come to nothing unless the belligerents signed the "act of engagement".
Such a pact would be the first collective and public commitment of its kind affecting the east since the 1989-2003 war.
The United States and other western powers have pressured both President Joseph Kabila, whose army has deployed 25,000 men to battle Nkunda's estimated 4,000 troops, and the rebel general to make peace. They have even raised the possibility of Nkunda going into exile.
But Nkunda regards some 6,000 armed Rwandan Hutus based in eastern DRC, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDFL), as his primary foes. His aides regularly accuse the DRC army of using these "genocidal killers" as auxiliaries.
The Rwandan government in Kigali holds some of these Rwandan Hutus responsible, when they served either as government troops or militia, for the genocide in their country in 1994 of around 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis.
Conference delegates, in preliminary reports, demanded the repatriation of foreign fighters in eastern DRC and the return in safety of Congolese displaced people and exiles.
Congolese await 'historic' deal
A peace agreement between the Democratic Republic of Congo government and armed groups in the east is due to be signed at a ceremony in Goma.
The deal includes an immediate ceasefire, the phased withdrawal of all rebel forces from North Kivu and the resettlement of thousands of villagers.
Correspondents say the fate of rebel Gen Laurent Nkunda, wanted for war crimes, is not included in the pact.
Human Rights Watch's Anneke Van Woudenberg says the deal is "historic".
Talks involving the Dr Congo government and more than 20 rebel groups have been under way for more than two weeks and sponsored by the United States, the European Union and the African Union.
The deal aims to end months of bloody conflict around the town of Goma, which has driven over 450,000 people from their homes in the last year.
More than five million people have died in the central African country in the past decade from war and related crises, an aid agency survey suggests.
The International Rescue Committee says 45,000 people are dying every month - a total of 5.4 million dead since 1998 surpassing any conflict since World War II, it says.
Journalist Justin Dralaze at the conference told the BBC that the deal gives amnesty to all fighting groups, but it is not clear what will happen to Mr Nkunda.
There has been talk that Gen Nkunda could be integrated into the army or sent into exile.
He leads the main rebel movement in the area and his forces repulsed a major government offensive last December.
The government has issued an international arrest warrant against Gen Nkunda, for alleged war crimes committed by his forces.
The renegade general claims his forces are protecting ethnic Tutsis in North Kivu province from Rwandan Hutu rebels - both Interahamwe militia and former Rwandan armed forces - who have lived in eastern DR Congo since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Some of these Hutu fighters now form the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group.
Mr Dralaze says it is also not clear whether the issue of the FDLR and Interahamwe is going to be dealt with in the peace agreement.
Many groups, he says, want these militia to be disarmed and returned to Rwanda as they do not believe the Congolese army will protect their communities.
The Interahamwe were supposed to be disarmed under the terms of the 2002 peace deal which ended DR Congo's five-year civil war.
President Joseph Kabila is in Goma, but has not attended the talks personally, neither has Gen Nkunda.
Once signed, United Nations troops would keep the two sides apart, moving into 13 positions vacated by the rebels.
And within a week specialist advisers would fly in from the US, the UK and Europe, to try to work on the details.
The EU is promising $150m of aid to reconstruct the region, which has been devastated by the fighting.
"This is increasingly looking like an historic moment for eastern Congo," Ms van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch said.
"If the agreement is signed it will be an important foundation for bringing peace and ending the suffering of so many thousands of people."
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr//1/hi/world/africa/7202002.stmPublished: 2008/01/22 11:01:44 GMT
The Displaced Just Want Peace
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
22 January 2008
News that parties to the bloody conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said they would sign a peace treaty was welcomed by those displaced by the civil strife, who just want calm restored so they can return home.
"We eagerly wait for the guns to fall silent, for Laurent Nkunda's [forces] to give up their arms and we will return to our homes," said Domina Maniriho, 37-year-old mother of six and a resident of the Mugunga 1 displaced persons' camp, 17km west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi, leads the National Congress for the Defence of the Congolese People (CNDP) insurgency, which says it has been fighting to protect eastern Congo's minority Tutsi population from attacks by Hutu militias known as the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda), many of whom are alleged to have taken part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Fighting between Nkunda's forces and government troops in North Kivu intensified in August 2007 when Nkunda pulled out of a peace agreement that would have seen his forces mixed with Congo's regular army. Congo's army, he said, had not done enough to neutralise the FDLR.
At a conference in Goma aimed at restoring peace and security to the Kivu provinces, government officials and representatives from rival militia factions and rebel groups on 22 January said they would sign a ceasefire agreement that would bring fighting to an end.
Those displaced by the conflict say they would like to see the repatriation to Rwanda of members of Hutu extremist militias they regard as the main cause of insecurity in the region.
"We expect the government and the international community to take back home the Interahamwe [Hutu extremist militias] as recommended by all participants in the conference," said Maniriho.
The DRC government has tabled a plan that provides for the repatriation of Rwandan Hutu fighters, first voluntarily and then by force from mid-March if they refuse to leave.
Despite expressed commitment to a truce before the conference opened early in January, sporadic outbreaks of fighting between parties to the conflict have been reported.
"There are too many killings, too many rapes and abuses that should stop at all costs," said Alphonse Batiburasabinako, a 50-year-old ethnic Hutu farmer.
Thousands of women have been raped during the violence in the Kivu provinces, according to humanitarian organisations. Entire villages have been looted and often set on fire. Civilians have been forced to flee from areas where they had sought refuge.
Batiburasabinako said his teenage son has been missing for months since he was abducted by rebel forces.
"I do not know what has become of him since the troops of Laurent Nkunda took him hostage on his way home from school to go to work as a slave or child soldier," he said. "I do not know if he is still alive or if he is already dead."
The UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) has denounced continued recruitment, by all parties to the conflict, of children into the armed forces.
For some of those displaced by the unrest, the ethnic conflict is seen as a game played out by politicians.
"In our village we lived together, ate together, without problems, among Tutsi, Hutu and Twa ethnic groups. But it is the politicians who try to turn us against each other for their own interests," said Batiburasabinako, a resident of the Mugunga camps, where he lives surrounded by Tutsis and members of other ethnic groups.
"We want to live in harmony where there will be no differences in ethnicities like before 1996 [when the civil war that precipitated the current crisis first broke out]," said Maniriho.
"We want the war to stop so that we can regain our villages of origin, go about our businesses and earn our living as free men," agreed Batiburasabinako.
The displaced have complained about unsatisfactory conditions in the camps, saying humanitarian assistance has not been adequate.
"We receive a sack of flour a month, but that is not enough to feed a family of 10 people for a month," said Batiburasabinako. "I sometimes have to barter a little of that for other kinds of food and work in the fields to sustain my family," he added.
Despite the hardship, the camp at Mugunga has a thriving market. Residents trade in farm products and manufactured goods brought from towns.
Prostitution has also emerged as a by-product of the camp life.
"When, at the end of a day, I do not have enough to eat, I solicit for sex, often unprotected, in camps or outside, in exchange for 200 Congolese francs [US 40 cents], as long as I have enough to buy flour and a very small piece of meat for the evening for my son and myself," said Tantine, 19 (not her real name). Hundreds of other women do the same, according to Tantine.
Internally displaced people live in small straw huts often covered with a tarpaulin provided by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. But there are those who do not have roofs over their heads and are constantly exposed to the elements.
"Hundreds of newcomers do not even have shelter. They are crowded in sheds where they sleep rough until they find a solution," explained Vanessa Kalafulo, the official in charge of the Mugunga camp.
Medical supplies are also inadequate, she said.
"During the past four months, we have registered 80 cases of cholera, all of whom died because the care we gave them was not sufficient," she said.
"We just need assistance and the end of the war and then we can go home and enjoy the development that has been promised by Westerners and the Chinese," said Maniriho.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), North Kivu is worst affected by the displacement crisis. Since August 2007, unrest has forced about 232,000 people to flee their homes, taking the total of internally displaced persons in the province over 800,000. Unconfirmed reports suggest there may be an additional 150,000 displaced.
In South Kivu, more than 100,000 people were displaced last year, even as the province became a "safe haven" for 60,000 people fleeing North Kivu, according to OCHA.
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire