Talks in Nairobi stall between DR Congo, rebels

Talks between Congolese rebels and Kinshasa government officials stalled Wednesday on their third day in Nairobi, with the rebels accusing the United Nations of taking sides and threatening a walkout.

"Success has been blocked by two difficulties," Olusegun Obasanjo, the UN special envoy and former Nigerian president who is chairing the discussions, told reporters.

One hurdle is that the rebels want to discuss the situation in the whole of Democratic Republic of Congo, not just the east, he said. The other is the lack of decision-making authority on the part of the rebel delegation.

"At the moment they're a little bit unclear on their aims and their objectives," he said.

Obasanjo said he asked the rebels to allow members of his mediation team to go to Goma, the rebel-ringed main city in the east of Congo, on Thursday to see rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and discuss the stumbling blocks with him.

UN Special envoy for the Democratic Republic of Congo conflict Olusegun Obasanjo gives a press briefing at the UN headquarters in Nairobi.

Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa reacted to the development by accusing the UN mediation effort of siding with the Congolese governemnt -- and threatening to pull out of the talks.

"We cannot continue to sit with a mediation that has taken sides," Bisimwa told AFP in Kinshasa by telephone. "We prefer to withdraw to deal with the suffering of our people."

Political leaders of the rebellion would finalise the decision to quit the talks, he added.

Talks have been underway in the Kenyan capital amid hopes of reaching agreement on a framework for substantive talks, a UN spokesman said, with a view to halting the conflict in the east of Congo.

"Delegations are expected to be in a mix of proximity and direct talks today. There is a hope on behalf of the facilitation that a framework agreement will be reached today," UN spokesman Jens Laerke said earlier.

Obasanjo, who is UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, had said Tuesday that he hoped substantive talks would begin "before Christmas".

Kinshasa's Cooperation Minister Raymond Tshibanda is leading the government delegation, while the five-man rebel team is headed by Serge Kambasu Ngeve, deputy executive secretary of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

Fighting since August 28 between government troops and the CNDP, led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, has displaced more than 250,000 people in eastern Nord-Kivu province.

Nkunda's fighters have inflicted heavy losses on the Congolese army, taking control of much of the province, including the outskirts of the regional capital Goma.

The CNDP has repeatedly broken a self-declared ceasefire in place since late October, by clashing with other armed groups in the region.

Kinshasa said before the Nairobi meeting that it would welcome other armed Congolese groups to participate in negotiations, but the CNDP has demanded exclusive direct talks with the government.

The fighting resumed in August after the breakdown of a January peace agreement signed by all the Congolese armed groups.

Obasanjo said Wednesday: "The CNDP continues to demand discussions on what it sees as the challenges facing the country as a whole, not just the ongoing conflict and humanitarian emergencies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo".

"Without prejudice, of course, to the rights and wrong of the demand, it goes ... beyond the mandate given to us by the Great Lakes region, the African Union and the United Nations."

He went on: "The power given to the CNDP delegation by its leadership appeared to have severely limited its ability to make decisions... They have a mandate to be here, but they don't have the power to take decisions."


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