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Congo Rebels Demand Negotiations

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VOA News - October 18, 2007

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Dissident Congolese General Laurent Nkunda and his National Congress for the People's Defense will not surrender or agree to integrate in Congo's national army without formal negotiations, a spokesman says. Noel King has more for VOA in this report from Kigali.

Congo's government and rebels are headed for a stalemate as each side refuses the other's demands. Rebels say Congo's announcement that it plans to mount a military offensive has failed to convince them to lay down their arms.

Rene Abanzi, a spokesman for dissident General Laurent Nkunda, says rebels will continue to fight until Congolese President Joseph Kabila comes to the negotiating table.

"We are continuing to call for peace talks. We need a political solution," said Abanzi. "We will continue to explain to the international community that negotiation is the only way we can solve our problem."

Mr. Kabila announced his plan to use military force to purge Nkunda's rebellion on Wednesday. He added that the armed forces will also attempt to neutralize Hutu militias known as the FDLR, who are responsible for attacks on ethnic Tutsis in the region.

General Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi, says the continued presence of the FDLR prompted him to break ranks with the army in 2004.

It is unclear if Congo 's weakened and badly demoralized military has the strength to defeat Nkunda's disciplined fighting force.

An independent political analyst, Jason Stearns, tells VOA that he doubts there can be a military solution.

"The only way we are going to get out of this impasse is through political negotiation. I do not see any military solution," said Stearns. "Congo's army has tried numerous times in the past to defeat Nkunda militarily and has failed."

Stearns says the civilian population of eastern Congo has borne the brunt of ongoing fighting.

The United Nations estimates that 370,000 people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in December 2006. Nkunda says he is trying to protect Congolese Tutsis from attacks by Hutu militias.

Observers and analysts say there is more to the story. They say a number of armed groups want to control eastern Congo's mineral resources

Gold, diamonds and casseterite, a valuable ore used in electronics, are found in eastern Congo.


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