Monday, December 22, 2008



Sunday, December 21 2008

Rebels accuse Congolese government of violating truce as civil society group say women sidelined in the negotiations

Nairobi-based peace talks surrounding the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were at risk of stalling over the weekend, when rebel forces accused the government of secretly occupying truce zones.

Meanwhile, regional ministers said they were willing to send troops to the contentious areas, while a Congolese civil society group on Sunday said women have been sidelined throughout the negotiations.

The Nairobi talks encountered unexpected obstacles on Saturday, when the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) accused the Congolese national army of advancing into ceasefire areas in the country’s North Kivu province.

The CNDP, headed by Gen Laurent Nkunda, had left the zones earlier as part of a unilateral ceasefire. “The CNDP made allegations that the territorial positions from which they had voluntarily withdrawn following their unilateral ceasefire…had now been occupied by the Congolese armed forces,” read a statement issued by the United Nations on Saturday.

When the allegation came out, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, representing the UN, could not verify its truthfulness through independent sources. “It has been reported back to the mediators that these allegations are without foundation,” the UN said.

The claim was also reportedly denied by Congolese forces. “It’s wrong, dead wrong, the army is stationed in its old positions. There is no talk of them moving forward towards the positions that the CNDP vacated,” an army commander told one news agency.

Renewed fighting could grip the volatile region following this latest dispute. Over the weekend, representatives of the rebel forces refused to sign a joint ceasefire agreement. “The CNDP refused to sign a joint declaration of Cessation of Hostilities with the Government of the DRC. Furthermore, the CNDP has declined to recommit itself to its own existing unilateral ceasefire declaration,” read the UN statement.

Meanwhile, regional ministers said they were willing to commit troops to North Kivu province in a bid to prevent any further violence there.

Meeting at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre on Saturday, foreign ministers representing the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region issued a statement supporting the ongoing UN negotiations but rejecting rebel violence. “The Great Lakes Region will not accept continuous violence and destruction against the people of DR Congo by armed groups. If necessary, the region will commit forces to enforce peace in North Kivu province,” the ministers said.

During the meeting, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula urged the UN to review the mandate of its 17,000-strong peacekeeping force in DR Congo, the largest such force anywhere in the world. “They should not only be made to keep peace as per their mandate, but they should also be allowed to make it,” he said.

On Sunday, a Congolese civil society group said women have been sidelined throughout the Nairobi talks. Women must be more actively involved in the peace negotiations, they argued, because women have been especially affected by the escalating violence.

Speaking to journalists in Nairobi, Mrs Edos Nziavake, the chairperson of a female rights group based in South Kivu province, said women from her region have not been represented despite a UN resolution requiring their voices to be heard. “Congolese women must play an active role in the Nairobi negotiations,” she demanded Sunday.

According to Mrs Nziavake, resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council requires their participation. The resolution, which was adopted on October 31, 2000, “urges member states to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.”

The ongoing talks, the civil society leader said, “are working in disregard of this.”Cases of violence against women, perpetrated by both sides, have risen dramatically since the latest fighting broke out, Mrs Nziavake said on Sunday. For example, women have died trying to protect their sons from being attacked or recruited forcibly by rebel troops.

“As we talk, we have more some 3,750 registered rape cases,” she noted, “but the number is definitely more than that since some have not presented their cases for fear of intimidation.”

The UN-mediated negotiations in Nairobi have now stopped, and are scheduled to reconvene on January 7 next year.