GOMA, DR Congo (AFP) — UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he would personally mediate in the crisis in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where new clashes broke out Tuesday, threatening a week-old ceasefire.
The fighting, between forces loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda and local pro-government Mai-Mai militia, posed the first real threat to the ceasefire called last Wednesday by Nkunda as his forces reached Goma , the capital of Nord-Kivu.
The clashes near Rutshuru, around 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Goma, forced the evacuation of a dozen aid workers, according to a spokeswoman for the UN's mission in the country (MONUC) which has a small base in the area.
The aid workers had been part of a convoy which on Monday delivered the first humanitarian aid in a week to the area after security assurances from rebel groups.
"Our base was caught in the crossfire between CNDP (Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People) forces and Mai-Mai in the north," MONUC spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg told AFP.
Around 100 UN troops, mainly Indians and Uruguyans, are stationed at the base.
The renewed fighting came as prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he was keeping a close eye on allegations of killings, rape, looting and the forced displacement of civilian populations in Nord-Kivu and also Sud-Kivu.
A senior UN official, Alain Le Roy, meanwhile, said the number of peacekeepers in the country needed to be stepped up to bring the crisis under control.
Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa confirmed Tuesday's clashes and said Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels and government forces had taken part in the fighting alongside the Mai-Mai.
"The FDLR, the Mai-Mai and the FARDC forces tried to take the town. They were pushed back several kilometres from the town," he said, adding that the clashes had involved heavy weapons and had begun around 10:30 am (0830 GMT).
"It was a deliberate, prepared attack," said Bisimwa.
The UN Secretary General said he would visit the region at the weekend to hold talks with President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, whose country has been accused by Kinshasa of supporting a rebel offensive which has seen government forces routed across eastern Congo.
But Rwanda slammed as a "misconception" international efforts to solve the crisis.
Kigali's foreign ministry reiterated Kagame's willingness to take part in a regional summit in Nairobi some time this month but warned the world should not expect miracles.
"The prevailing assumption that the crisis is a matter between Rwanda and the DRC is wrong, contrary to what some in the international community continue to say," a ministry statement said.
Ban, who named Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo as his special envoy to the region, said the two presidents were willing to meet him "possibly this week or early next week."
The crisis will also be discussed at a 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Johannesburg at the weekend, a South African foreign ministry spokesman said.
Analysts say there is no doubt that Kigali's Tutsi-dominated regime assists Nkunda, frustrated by Kinshasa's failure to disarm a Rwandan Hutu rebel group harbouring perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis.
Meanwhile, the UN was struggling to reinforce overstretched peacekeepers trying to protect civilians in the Goma area after government forces were routed by advancing rebels who have stopped outside the town.
MONUC is the world's largest peacekeeping force, with 17,000 troops in the country, but only has a few thousand deployed in Nord-Kivu.
Congo's newly-appointed Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito visited Goma on Tuesday as UNICEF reported that children had been forcibly recruited into armed groups in rebel-held areas.
Aid agencies were also battling some 100 outbreaks of cholera among tens of thousands of displaced people scattered in four camps in the eastern Nord-Kivu province. Cases were said to be increasing at the rate of 10 a day.
The UN said on Monday that "up to 100,000 people" including 60,000 children, had fled the fighting in the past week alone, adding that 250,000 had been displaced since the resumption of fighting at the end of August.
It said the total number of displaced by years of fighting in the region was over one million, or 20 percent of the entire Nord-Kivu population.
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