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Congo militia group calls cease-fire

world Updated: Jan 18, 2009 15:18 IST

AP
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A pro-government militia said Saturday their forces would cease fighting in eastern Congo, one day after their rebel rivals declared a cease-fire with government forces. The political chief of the so-called Pareco militia, Sendugu Museveni, said that since the rebels want "peace, it means we have no reason to fight."

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the truce would herald an end to violence in eastern Congo. Pareco is just one of dozens of armed groups from Rwanda and Congo who have battled one another and the army in the region for more than a decade. The leader of the main Congo rebel faction, Laurent Nkunda, is not involved in the truce, but it is unclear how much power he still has. His former chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, announced a cease-fire with the government on Friday that was applauded by authorities.

Ntaganda broke away from Nkunda earlier this month and said the rebel chief was no longer the group's leader. Nkunda denies the claim, and has yet to comment publicly on the latest peace moves. Neighboring Rwanda's powerful army chief of staff, James Kabarebe, attended the Goma meeting Friday and his presence may indicate Rwanda backs Ntaganda _ which, if true, would be a devastating blow for Nkunda.

Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for the alleged forced conscription of child soldiers in the Ituri region of eastern Congo five years ago. Some analysts speculate Ntaganda may be trying to broker a deal to avoid being extradited for trial.

Museveni said he hoped Ntaganda's call for a truce was sincere, but conceded "we are not sure."

Pareco commander Col. Mugabo Baguma said the militia would back any operations against Congo-based Rwandan Hutu militias, whose leaders helped orchestrate Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Pareco has traditionally been loosely allied with the Rwandan militias. The presence of the Rwandan militias in Congo has given the mostly Tutsi rebels of Nkunda and Ntaganda reason to fight for years, and Baguma said if the militias were "not around, the resolve to end the war will be there."

Years of sporadic violence intensified in east Congo late last year, when Nkunda's rebels forced the army into a humiliating retreat, advancing toward the outskirts of the regional capital, Goma. The fighting displaced more than 250,000 people. Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi, says his rebels are fighting to protect Congo's minority Tutsis from the Hutu militia that fled to the country after helping perpetrate the 1994 genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. But his critics contend he is more interested in power and Congo's mineral wealth.