Congo Government Considers Face-To-Face Talks With Rebel Leaders

Congo's main rebel leader asked a U.N. envoy Saturday to arrange a face-to-face meeting with government officials during a second round of talks aimed at bringing peace to eastern Congo.

The envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda met for more than an hour in the rebel-held town of Jomba near the Ugandan border.

"We have moved to advance the cause of peace," Obasanjo said.

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Nkunda said the former president told him the government "accepted the principle" of a face-to-face meeting but did not agree on where to hold the talks. Obasanjo met with President Joseph Kabila earlier this week.

Nkunda added that if the government refuses to negotiate, "they will be choosing the way of fighting. And I know they do not have any capacity to fight."

The rebels and government soldiers all are accused of grave atrocities against civilians.

Nkunda, a former general, quit Congo's army in 2004 and launched a rebellion he claims is aimed at protecting ethnic Tutsis from Hutu militias who fled to Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide that left more than 500,000 mostly Tutsis dead. Critics, however, say Nkunda is more interested in power and the country's mineral wealth.

Obasanjo last met Nkunda earlier this month, when the rebel leader promised to support a cease-fire. But fighting has broken out since then with the army, and rebels captured two border posts and a town last week.

Some refugees already have fled three or four times since years of low-level fighting in eastern Congo intensified with a rebel offensive launched Aug. 28. More than 250,000 people have abandoned their homes since then.

On Friday, the U.N.'s top human rights official called for urgent action to stop the killing, rape and looting in eastern Congo. The U.N. Security Council also has agreed to reinforce its mission in Congo with 3,000 more soldiers and police because the current mission of 17,000 is spread too thin.