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Fighting in Congo despite rebel promises to UN

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[November 17, 2008]  RWINDI, Congo (AP) -- Congo's army clashed with rebels in some of the worst fighting in a week despite the rebel leader's promise to support a cease-fire, the United Nations and witnesses said Monday.

The two sides battled Sunday night in Rwindi, about 75 miles (125 kilometers) north of the eastern provincial capital of Goma. About 150 people took refuge outside a U.N. peacekeeping base here, huddling beside a white shipping container as mortar shells and artillery fire rained down.

Restaurant"These blue helmets would not let us inside, but it's better than nothing," said Clement Elias, 20, referring to the U.N. peacekeepers. He said he heard 100 explosions Sunday night.

There was no immediate word on casualties, according to U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich.

"Everybody is trying to push the other side back," Dietrich said. "It's very regrettable that they could not respect the cease-fire."

On Monday, Rwindi was quiet but rebels were seen walking freely, carrying generators and boxes of ammunition. The town is tiny, housing little else but a headquarters for Virunga National Park and a peacekeeping base, which is surrounded by barbed wire and sandbags. Dozens of civilians were sitting under trees Monday, listening to the radio for news.

Heavy fighting also broke out Sunday in Ndeko, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Goma, Dietrich said.

The Central African nation has the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping mission, with some 17,000 troops, but the peacekeepers have been unable to either stop the fighting or protect civilians caught in the way.


Congo's main rebel leader promised a U.N. envoy Sunday he would support a cease-fire as well as U.N. efforts to end the fighting.

"Now we have a message of peace. We should work with this mission," rebel leader Laurent Nkunda said.

The U.N. envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, met with Nkunda for the first time, after speaking with President Joseph Kabila and the leader of neighboring Angola.

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Nkunda launched a rebellion in 2004, claiming to protect ethnic Tutsis from Hutu militias who fled to Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide left more than 500,000 Tutsis and others slaughtered. But critics say Nkunda is more interested in power and Congo's mineral wealth.

Fighting among armed groups has ground on for years in eastern Congo's lawless North Kivu province, but the violence sharply escalated in August and has since displaced 250,000 people.

Congo's government says it is willing to meet Nkunda, but only with the many other militias in the region. Nkunda has criticized the government for signing deals with Chinese companies to exploit Congo's cobalt and copper.

Congo has called on Angola for military help, but Angola insists it does not have any troops there.

Some fear Congo's current crisis could once again draw in neighboring countries. Congo's devastating 1998-2002 war split the vast nation into rival fiefdoms and involved half a dozen African armies, including Angola's.

[Associated Press; By TODD PITMAN]

Associated Press writer Anita Powell in Goma, Congo, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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