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Armed Groups to Meet in DRC Peace Summit

By Selah Hennessy
22 December 2007

A summit has been called in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to try to bring peace to the war-torn country. Conference organizers say they hope the meeting will initiate a dialogue between the army, renegade troops led by former general Laurent Nkunda, and other armed groups who have battling in the region since August. Selah Hennessy reports for VOA from Goma.

The conference is set to take place on December 27 in Goma, the regional capital in the east.

Conference organizers say rebel leader Nkunda will be officially invited to the summit and say his attendance is crucial.

But Nkunda spokesman Rene Abandi says his camp has not yet decided if it will attend.

Nkunda's guerrilla fighters have been battling against the army and other armed groups in eastern Congo since August.

In early December the army launched a major offensive against Nkunda's militia, hoping to wipe out the insurgency once and for all.

But despite U.N. support and a 20,000 strong army, almost five times the size of Nkunda's force, the government has not been able to defeat the insurgents.

Fighting between armed groups, including government forces, has displaced around 800,000 civilians in eastern Congo.

During this month alone tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee fighting in or near their villages.

Displacement camps in the region are now over-flowing and many aid agencies have had to suspend delivery of aid due to security risks.

Humanitarian groups say life will not improve for hundreds of thousands of civilians in eastern Congo until a solution to the current crisis is found.

Aya Shneerson is director of the United Nations aid organization World Food Program in eastern DRC.

"This is the last crisis of so many," she said. "Really a lot of these people have been running from one place to the other for the last - since I have been here, over two years. There's one old man I've seen in five camps already. We are really hoping that there will be some solution to the conflict so that some kind of normality can go back to their lives."

On Thursday the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders released a list of the top ten most under-reported humanitarian crisis of 2007.

DRC, for the ninth time in the last ten years, was on the list.

The organization says displacement in eastern Congo is leading to serious malnourishment and disease.

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