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Congolese Rebels Refuse to Disarm as Deadline Nears

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VOA News - October 14, 2007

Rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are refusing to disband and disarm, one day before a deadline set by President Joseph Kabila.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda told the BBC Sunday that more talks with the government are necessary before his troops can be integrated into the national army.

President Kabila has said the rebels must join the army by Monday or face unspecified action.  Rebels and foreign observers have said they expect an army offensive against the rebels.

Mr. Kabila arrived in Congo's North Kivu province Sunday with the army chief of staff and his ministers of defense and humanitarian affairs.  A spokesman said the president came to assess the region's military and humanitarian situation. 

The army said it captured three rebel-held towns in North Kivu last week and killed at least 85 rebel fighters.

The sides have engaged in weeks of often heavy fighting in villages near the provincial capital, Goma.  Nkunda called for a new ceasefire on Wednesday, two days after abandoning an earlier ceasefire he said the army had already broken by attacking his troops.

Sunday, Nkunda said he would be prepared to leave Congo if certain conditions are met.  He said he wants discussions on the return of Congolese Tutsi refugees from neighboring countries such as Rwanda and Burundi.

The renegade general has said his forces are protecting Congo's minority Tutsi population.  He accuses the Congolese government of collaborating with Hutu rebels who entered the area after the Rwandan 1994 genocide.

Congo's army has been fighting Nkunda since 2004 as part of efforts to assert control over the country's volatile east.  Militias and rebel groups remain active in the region, more than four years after the end of Congo's civil war.


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