The reported murder of at least a dozen civilians by rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo has underscored the urgency of today's summit of African and UN leaders, which will attempt to restore a regional ceasefire.
Reuters reports that the bodies of at least 12 people were found by UN peacekeepers and journalists in the village of Kiwanja, the day after Congolese Tutsi rebels, led by Gen. Laurent Nkunda, attacked the town, which the rebels said contained members of the pro-government Mai-Mai militia.
Kiwanja residents said Mr. Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels had carried out the killings after taking control of the village in the latest flare-up of a conflict that traces its origins to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
"They knocked on the doors, when the people opened, they killed them with their guns," said Simo Bramporiki, aged around 60, who said his wife and child were killed last night.
Nkunda denied his men had killed civilians.
"It was against the Mai-Mai (militia) and many were in civilian dress," he told Reuters by telephone.
Reuters adds that a UN spokesman said the rebels could still be guilty of war crimes if those killed were Mai-Mai who had surrendered.
Bloomberg reports that Human Rights Watch put the total number of civilian deaths in Kiwanja at 20, with another 33 wounded, and notes that reports of the violence come as African heads of state met with UN officials in Kenya to try and restore peace to the region.
The summit in the capital, Nairobi, is being attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon, Congolese President Joseph Kabila, and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, among other African leaders. New York-based Human Rights Watch said while a diplomatic solution to the crisis is being sought, civilians in the area "need urgent protection and security now."
CNN reports that the talks are meant to restore the ceasefire between Kinshasa and Congolese rebels, which has been undermined by a string of attacks, including that on Kiwanja. Mr. Ban called for the ceasefire to be restored.
The secretary-general "calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of forces to positions held prior to the resumption of fighting on 28 August," the statement said, referring to when the latest wave of fighting broke out.
Ban "urges the armed groups involved in the ongoing fighting to support the current efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in the eastern DRC and to avoid activities that result in the further displacement and suffering of the civilian population."
"People are being slaughtered and [UN peacekeepers] did nothing," a spokesman for President Joseph Kabila said....
A spokesman for the UN in DR Congo, Madnodje Mounoubai, told the BBC that the UN was doing its best to help civilians, but that peacekeepers could not fire at rebels when they were surrounded by civilians.
"You cannot fire when you have civilians on the road running in all directions. If you start firing in that situation you end up killing a lot of civilians," he said.
For its part, India intends to reinforce its contribution to the UN peacekeeping forces in Congo, reports Agence France-Presse. The Indian army announced Thursday that it would send a battalion of 1,200 Gurkha troops to join the UN mission.
"The Gurkhas would replace our sixth light infantry battalion in the DRC and the deployment would be completed within the month," the spokesman said in New Delhi.
The ministry said the Gurkhas had been specially trained.
"Keeping in view the volatile conditions in Congo, the unit has carried out extensive training and mission sensitization in Delhi for the past few months in all aspects of UN operations," it said in a statement.
The Economist writes that "the root of the problem goes back to the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994."
After the genocidal Hutu militias were chased out of Rwanda, they fled to Congo, called themselves the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and have marauded in North Kivu ever since. Successive weak regimes in Kinshasa, Congo's distant capital, have used them as a tool, first against a Rwandan intervention that helped spark a wider conflict from 1998 to 2003. Congo's President Kabila is now using them as proxies against General Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). Mr Kabila's failure to rid eastern Congo of the Hutu génocidaires has nourished General Nkunda's own brand of Tutsi extremism. Mr Kabila has also winked at local militias, including the Mai-Mai, who have been fighting General Nkunda's men too.
Neighbouring Rwanda is also culpable. Its government has repeatedly endorsed various demands of the general, who refuses to register his group as a political movement in Congo, eschewing the UN-sponsored elections there two years ago. Instead, Rwanda's President Kagame has pursued a contradictory policy, telling Mr Kabila to squash the Hutu rebels of the FDLR but refusing to meet the FDLR's demands to have a legal stake in Rwanda's politics. If Mr. Kagame let it do so, many of the FDLR fighters, especially those who did not play known roles in the genocide, would probably go home.