The African Union has condemned the violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and is launching a 'quiet diplomacy' initiative aimed at bringing all parties involved to the negotiating table. VOA's Peter Heinlein has more from AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
A communiqué issued late Friday by the AU Peace and Security Council strongly condemns the hostile actions launched by forces under Congolese rebel commander, General Laurent Nkunda. The rebel chief commands a force of about 10,000 that is poised outside Goma, on the DRC border with Rwanda.
Nkunda's forces stand accused of looting, killing and rape during their advance on Goma several days ago. Rights groups have also criticized government troops for atrocities and looting.
The AU communiqué issued Friday does not mention Nkunda or his forces by name, but AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said there should be no doubt it refers to Nkunda.
"The fact [is] hat troops of Mr. Nkunda are the ones who have launched the offensive," he said.
Commissioner Lamamra said the African Union is working closely with the United Nations, the United States and the European Union to find a political solution before further violence descends on Goma. He told reporters a diplomatic initiative aimed at ending the standoff around Goma is a cause for hope.
|Internally Displaced People leave Goma toward an improvised IDP camp in Kibati, north of Goma, 31 Oct. 2008|
"There are contacts aimed at bringing together leaders in the region," he said. "This is what I called quiet diplomacy, and we certainly hope this will bring fruit."
The AU communiqué pledged strong support for the U.N. peacekeeping force known by its French acronym MONUC, and condemned recent attacks on its blue-helmeted peacekeepers.
Tunisia's AU Ambassador Hatem Atallah, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the Peace and Security Council, expressed hope that a strong and coordinated diplomatic push could restore stability around Goma, where tens of thousands of residents and government troops have fled as rebels advanced to within a few kilometers of the town.
"This is the start of the process. Things can evolve," he said. "The main thing we are interested in today …is our strong concern about the violence and hostilities, but we are concerned about the humanitarian situation. People are fleeing and this is exerting a heavy toll on the population, and this is our main concern at this point."
The head of the MONUC force said this week his peacekeepers are stretched to the limit, and asked that more troops be dispatched urgently. MONUC is already the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission, with about 17,000 police and soldiers in the country.
African Union officials said they support efforts to bring more international peacekeepers to the tense region. At the same time, however, they said it is unlikely any African troops are available to help. An East African standby force designed to respond to crises such as this is not yet operational.
Nkunda launched a rebellion three years ago, saying the transition to democracy in the DRC had excluded ethnic Tutsi. He charges that the government in Kinshasa has not protected ethnic Tutsis from Hutu militias who escaped to eastern Congo after the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
|Renegade General Laurent Nkunda (File)|
Referring to the urgent need of a quick diplomatic solution to the current tensions around Goma, one AU diplomat commented "nobody wants another Rwanda".