Eruptions of violence in the DR Congo are putting a fragile ceasefire under threat.
Witnesses said hundreds of frightened civilians started fleeing from the camp towards Goma at the sound of the fighting, which forced the UN children’s agency Unicef to halt its distribution of food.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Troops on move
A column of Congolese troops was seen heading north into the bush, towards front line positions occupied by rebels loyal Laurent Nkunda, a renegade Congoloese army general who suspended his group’s offensive on Goma last week.
A Uruguayan UN commander on the spot said the troops reinforcing the government lines were Angolans, but this could not be immediately confirmed elsewhere.
Nkunda’s rebels have accused the Congolese government of using Angolan troops.
General Vainqueur Mayala, who heads the Congolese troops in North Kivu, confirmed there was a “clash” near Kibati between his troops and Nkunda’s rebels.
Nkunda was not invited to the meeting in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, where Kabila, Paul Kagame, the Rwanadan president and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general gathered to discuss the conflict.
“It’s only a regional summit,” Nkunda told the Reuters news agency by telephone on Friday. “It doesn’t have any impact on our demands.”
Nkunda has said the summit will not end his rebellion unless it convinces Kabila to negotiate directly with him, something the Congolese leader has refused to do.
“He [Nkunda] is a key player and he’s not here today,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Awad, reporting from the conference. “That pretty much puts a limit on what can come out today.”
“Nkunda wants the Congolese government to disarm Hutu militias associated with the genocide in Rwanda and the Congolese government wants Rwanda to stop supporting him [Nkunda], which the Rwandan government denies,” she said.
One of the goals of the Kenya meeting is to restart dialogue between Kabila and Kagame.
Kabila accuses Kigali of supporting Nkunda’s fighters.
The presidents of Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi, and Olusegun Obasanjo, the UN’s newly appointed envoy to the DRC and former Nigerian president, are attending the summit.
The emergency summit began a day after rebel forces captured another town in North Kivu province and amid warnings by rights groups of civilian killings.
The US-based Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that both forces of Nkunda and a pro-government militia had killed at least 20 civilians in recent fighting.
Thousands of civilians fled fighting in eastern Congo as the ceasefire fell apart.
Civilians escaping clashes said the attacks had been started by pro-government Mai-Mai militia members.
UN peacekeepers found on Thursday the corpses of at least a dozen civilians in Kiwanja, a town 70km north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
The bodies of adult males – five in a single room – bore marks of being hit by rockets or grenades.
There were no indications that the dead men had been fighters and some were reported as wearing work overalls.
Kudura Kasongo, a spokesman for Kabila, said on Friday in Nairobi that the UN had done nothing to stop killings of civilians by the rebels.
“People are being slaughtered and Monuc [the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] did nothing,” he said.
UN peacekeepers said they had launched an operation around the town, to try to halt the fighting.
The UN is expected to seek a stronger mandate and 3,000 troops to supplement the existing 7000-strong force in the Congo.
The North Kivu government army commander blamed the militia for the clashes and said his own forces would respect the ceasefire.
The conflict in eastern Congo, which persists years after the end of a wider 1998-2003 war, is fuelled by ethnic hatred left over from Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Nkunda claims the Congolese government has not protected ethnic Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to Congo after helping slaughter a half-million Rwandan Tutsis.
Nkunda, who defected from the army in 2004, now says he is fighting to liberate all of Congo from a corrupt government.
He went on the offensive on August 28 and brought his fighters to the edge of Goma last week before declaring a unilateral ceasefire.