UNITED NATIONS – A U.N. envoy trying to bring peace to eastern Congo told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that there has been some progress in talks between the Congolese government and a key rebel group and "a warming relationship" between the leaders of Congo and Rwanda, which borders the conflict-wracked region.
Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, cautioned that "much remains to be done," but he said the situation has improved significantly since early November when fighting and ethnic tensions had escalated significantly.
The conflict in eastern Congo has been fueled by festering ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of a half-million Tutsis in Rwanda, and Congo's 1996-2002 civil wars, which drew neighboring countries in a rush to plunder Congo's mineral wealth.
In the latest outbreak of violence, rebels led by Laurent Nkunda launched an offensive in late August, gaining control of a large swath of North Kivu and driving over a quarter of a million people from their homes. Many Congolese soldiers fled the advancing rebels, and U.N. peacekeepers were unable to protect civilians from being killed or raped.
Obasanjo told the council that "progress has remained slower than desirable" in the dialogue between the government and Nkunda's rebel movement that began on Dec. 8. But he said the last of three documents on "ground rules" for substantive discussions was signed on Jan. 12 and the parties have now "re-engaged in discussions towards a joint cessation of hostilities declaration."
At a meeting with Nkunda last week, Obasanjo acts and ministerial-level meetings."
"Both presidents expressed satisfaction with the progress made in finding common ground to deal with issues of joint concern," he said, especially the issue of the Rwandan Hutu FDLR militia, which includes some combatants who participated in the Rwandan genocide.
In line with a 2007 Nairobi accord, Obasanjo said Rwanda and Congo "have agreed on a military plan to put pressure on the FDLR."
"Both countries seem encouraged with the political message their enhanced cooperation is sending," he added.
Obasanjo pledged to "leave no stone unturned" to help the parties reach a comprehensive and implementable peace agreement.
"The momentum for peace generated so far cannot, must not, and will not be allowed to die," he said. "The people of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, who have suffered so much and for so long, warrant better than that. They deserve, and they demand, a full a lasting peace."