Renegade Congolese Gen Laurent Nkunda, whose forces are battling government troops in eastern DRC’s North Kivu Province, has declared a unilateral ceasefire in the run-up to a major conference aimed at restoring peace and security to the region, an announcement the government dismissed as irrelevant.
This government-organised conference, which hundreds of people from political, military and civilian walks of life are due to attend, had been scheduled to start on 27 December. The official opening has now been put back to 6 January, with preparatory meetings beginning this week.
“We confirm the ceasefire, we will respect it,” Bwambale Kakolele, Nkunda’s military commander and right-hand-man, said in a telephone interview.
“But we are waiting for the government to follow suit, because they have not yet done so,” he added.
“Through this ceasefire we want to facilitate the Kivu peace conference but also to respect the undertakings made with the Americans we have had contact with here on the ground and with the African Union and European Union,” he said.
Earlier in December, leading international diplomats met in Goma to plan a task force that would follow up on the implementation of renewed commitments made in November by DRC and neighbouring Rwanda to pacify the Kivu provinces.
Asked to respond to the ceasefire, DRC Defence Minister Chikez Deimu told IRIN: “Nkunda is still a criminal no matter what platform he is given to talk from. He has killed people and left orphans in Kisangani and Bukavu and continues to kill and bury people alive.”
“We are organising the peace conference for the people and not for a single individual, Nkunda, so that he can declare a ceasefire now. Sooner or later, we will defeat him. The people of Congo will win. Nkunda enjoys the complicity of certain interests. That’s bad,” the minister added.
Nkunda’s forces clash with Mayi-Mayi
Despite the ceasefire, Nkunda’s forces have clashed with Mayi-Mayi militias in a village 60km west of Goma.
“All we are doing is defending ourselves. These people [the Mayi-Mayi] are doing the government’s work and want to demonise us, but we won’t be tricked into undermining peace efforts,” said Kakolele.
Nkunda and other officials in his Congres national pour la défense du peuple (National Congress for the Defence of the People - CNDP) have expressed their willingness to attend the Goma conference but complain they have not been officially invited.
“There are no security problems because we have guarantees from American envoys,” said Kakolele.
The days ahead of the conference’s revised opening will be spent on “sensitisation, designating participants and finalising the working documents,” according to Apollinaire Malumalu, who as well as chairing the national election commission is in charge of preparing the Goma gathering.
He added that the delay was necessary to explain the objectives of the meeting to all relevant parties before it got off the ground.