The U.N. Security Council sought an immediate cease-fire Tuesday by armed groups in eastern Congo to quell fighting that it said could renew a wider conflict in central Africa.
The 15-nation council’s members share “grave concern at the resurgence of violence” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern provinces, said Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui, this month’s council president.
Zhang said in a statement on behalf of the council that it is “alarmed by the humanitarian consequences of the recent fighting and urges all parties to immediately respect a cease-fire.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month warned against the potential for fighting among militias in the country’s hilly eastern border area to broaden. He urged the government and a key rebel Tutsi leader, Laurent Nkunda, and his National Congress for the Defense of the People to agree to a cease-fire.
In late August, fighting broke out again, especially in North Kivu, between government troops and Nkunda’s force in violation of a cease-fire agreement.
Nkunda had launched a low-level rebellion several years ago claiming Congo’s transition to democracy had excluded the country’s minority Tutsi ethnic group, which is being targeted by ethnic Hutus from Congo as well as Rwanda.
Zhang said the council strongly condemned Nkunda’s recent calls for a national rebellion. The council, Zhang said, also urged the government in Kinshasa to take “effective steps” to ensure its forces don’t cooperate with a Rwandan Hutu rebel force.
The U.N. estimates there are about 20,000 militia fighters in the eastern border area belonging to a number of different groups.
Among them are members of an extremist ethnic Hutu militia accused of orchestrating the 1994 genocide of 500,000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda. The group and others are accused of razing villages, terrorizing the local population and perpetrating rapes.
A 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo has been trying to protect civilians caught up in the fighting and to bring the situation under control through a proposed comprehensive disengagement plan.