8 Nov 2008

African leaders demand action on war-torn Congo

7:39 am on 8 November 2008

African leaders have called for an immediate ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of Congo and for United Nations peacekeepers to get greater powers.

After a summit in Kenya, they urged the creation of humanitarian corridors to help hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the fighting between government and rebel forces.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has meanwhile warned the conflict could engulf the wider region.

There are reports Angolan troops are reinforcing Congolese government forces.

And new clashes between government and rebel forces have broken out near the city of Goma forces thousands of refugees in a nearby town to flee.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the fighting interrupted the distribution of aid.

The Congolese government has accused UN peacekeepers of doing nothing to stop rebel troops killing civilians in the east of the country.

"People are being slaughtered and [UN peacekeepers] did nothing," a spokesperson for President Joseph Kabila said.

Rebels have been fighting government troops, causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee. The situation has been described as a humanitarian catastrophe.

The UN has 17,000 peacekeepers in DR Congo, making the mission, Monuc, its largest in the world.

Only a few hundred peacekeepers are in the areas affected by the latest violence, and human rights groups have also criticised the UN for failing to prevent the killings.

However, Monuc says it is reinforcing its troops in the regional capital, Goma, and has warned that soldiers will fire on any armed group trying to enter the city.

The UN also said it was investigating reports that rebels led by General Laurent Nkunda shot dead civilians in their homes in the eastern town of Kiwanja.

"They knocked on the doors, when the people opened, they killed them with their guns," said Simo Bramporiki, whose wife and child were killed during the night.

NZ pledges $1m for aid effort

New Zealand has pledged to send $1 million to support aid efforts in Congo.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Friday the situation in Congo was arguably the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"This situation demands action from the international community. As a concerned global citizen it is important that New Zealand does what it can to assist to help those most affected by this crisis," Miss Clark said.

The executive director of Oxfam, Barry Coates, says the money from New Zealand will help provide clean water, food, medicine and other emergency relief.