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African Countries Poised to Send Peacekeepers to Congo

African and Western governments are concerned that an upswing in violence in Democratic Republic of Congo between rebel fighters and Congo government forces will draw in neighboring countries as was the case in the 1998-2003 war, according to Reuters.

That war involved six African armies, and the war itself and subsequent fallout led to the deaths of several million people.

The current violence between rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and Congolese soldiers has intensified since August and forced about 250,000 people from their homes. A cease-fire was called Oct. 29, but sporadic fighting has continued.

SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salamao said the group would send military advisers to help Congolese President Joseph Kabila and a peacekeeping force “if and when necessary.”

Nkunda, whose Tutsi fighters are battling Congo government soldiers and their Rwandan Hutu rebels and Mai-Mai militia allies, said he would welcome African peacekeepers if they came as an impartial force to stabilize the North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.

But he also told Reuters by telephone that if the peacekeepers fight alongside the Congolese forces and Rwandan Hutu rebels, he would be prepared to fight them as well.

The United Nations already has its largest peacekeeping force in the world — 17,000 members — in Congo, and is seeking 3,000 more troops to bolster its forces there, reported Reuters.

“The U.N. also does not want to take sides,” Mvemba Dizolele, a freelance journalist and author who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, told the NewsHour on Friday. “On one level, the U.N. is supposed to protect the civilians against Laurent Nkunda. On one level, they’re supposed to be a neutral source, but they also have understanding that the U.N. is supposed to back the Congolese army.

“So every time they back the Congolese army, then they’re not seen as a neutral force,” Dizolele explained.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders reported that it treated about 60 new cases of cholera over the weekend in Kibati, a large refugee camp near Congo’s eastern provincial capital of Goma, according to the Associated Press.

Doctors expressed concern that shortages of water and latrines would trigger an outbreak of the disease.

Some 50,000 refugees have moved around Kibati in the village’s log cabins, or in hastily erected tents and beehive-shaped huts, reported the AP. Thousands of others sleep out in the open under plastic sheeting.

The conflict in North Kivu dates back to the 1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus, which helped spark the 1998-2003 Congo war. Nkunda says he is defending Congolese Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu rebels that he says are fighting with the Congolese army.

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