Western leaders were in Africa on Saturday, Nov. 1, to push diplomatic efforts aimed at preventing a humanitarian disaster in DR Congo. But the use of military force has to remain an option, a British official said.
Diplomats want to protect civilians by getting rebels to halt their advance
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband held crisis talks Saturday with Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila in a diplomatic push to halt a rebel advance and looming humanitarian disaster in the east of the country.
"The key theme of our discussion has been the need to implement the agreements that have already been made," Miliband said after the meeting. "Around the world, people are seeing the makings of a humanitarian crisis and it's vital that politics is used to reverse a further round of deaths and killings."
The pair of European diplomats is scheduled to visit the Rwanda on Saturday, while the top US envoy for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, was also in the DR Congo.
"We will try in Kinshasa, in Goma and in Kigali to renew contacts, which have never been completely severed, and to establish first perhaps a calming down, which then could lead us towards peace negotiations," Kouchner told Europe 1 radio before leaving for Africa.
Kouchner went on to call the violence "a massacre such as Africa has probably never seen, which is taking place virtually before our eyes."
West focuses on diplomatic answer
European leaders said the EU cannot simply watch as violence continues
The European Union's Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, who held talks with Congolese and Rwandan presidents Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame, told the BBC that the leaders had agreed to meet at a summit, possibly in Nairobi, Kenya, involving the African Union and other African leaders.
Western diplomats feel that the only way to resolve the conflict is to bring Rwanda and the DR Congo together at the table. European Union leaders said they would focus on a diplomatic solution to the current unrest but added that a military mission must remain a final option.
"We have certainly got to have it as an option which is developed and on the table if we need it," Mark Malloch-Brown, Britain's junior foreign minister, told the BBC. "If everything else fails we cannot stand back and watch violence erupt."
Fighting raged for four days and UN peacekeepers joined the battle, pounding Rebel Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) with helicopter gunships.
The UN's envoy has called for more troops
UN peacekeepers were, however, stretched to the limit by the fighting and the UN's top envoy in DR Congo, Alan Doss, has called for more troops to add to the 17,000 contingent already in the sprawling central African nation.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Friday called the situation "very threatening" and urged Nkunda to stick to the cease-fire, which Nkunda declared Wednesday with his troops on the verge of taking the major city Goma.
The cease-fire continued to hold Saturday, but fears were growing for the fate of the tens of thousands who fled the rebel advance.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said the situation was "desperate." According to UNCHR, rebel forces forcibly emptied refugee camps and burned them to the ground during their advance on Goma.
Aid groups leave DRC
Thousands of people have already left their homes
The situation in Goma is volatile, with Congolese troops who fled the rebel advance seemingly out of control. There have been repeated reports that soldiers are killing, raping and looting in Goma.
Many aid agencies evacuated their staff from Goma on Wednesday as the rebels approached, but some now plan to take advantage of the cease-fire to return. The UN refugee agency UNHCR said it had received credible reports that rebels had looted and burned camps for displaced people.
"We are extremely concerned about the fate of some 50,000 displaced people living in these camps, which include the UNHCR-administered sites of Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa," spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists.
Other aid workers said Friday that some displaced people were attempting to leave Goma and return to their home villages.
DR Congo has accused Rwanda of backing Nkunda and there were some reports of cross-border firing during the fighting. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect Tutsis from armed Hutu groups.
Many Hutus fled to Congo after the 1994 massacres in Rwanda when Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the space of a few months.
The UN said about 250,000 civilians have fled the fighting since August, bringing the number of refugees in North Kivu to almost 1 million.