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Last-minute shift could jeopardize Congo peace talks

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Bringing other smaller rebel groups to the table may prompt Nkunda's people to walk out. "This is one of the reasons why [Nkunda's group] stopped talking with the government," says Van Woudenberg. "They felt that the government is padding its support...."

Monday's talks in Nairobi came as the European Union wrangled in Brussels over whether to support the UN's call for an EU force to boost the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Congo.

The temporary "bridging force" would help provide security, and if the two sides can agree to a cease-fire, there is a chance for longer-term peace talks to start once more and for hundreds of thousands of internal refugees to return home.

"If they manage to get a cease-fire, that will be quite important," says Van Woudenberg. "But these things are unpredictable, and if they can't get a cease-fire, that would be a real blow to finding a solution to the conflict."

The talks are an attempt to resurrect a peace agreement signed by Nkunda's militia, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and 21 other rebel groups on Jan. 23 of this year. Under the peace deal, the CNDP and other groups agreed to disarm and reintegrate into the Congolese Army under the condition that the Congolese government address the various rebel grievances.

For the CNDP, the main grievance is the continued presence of a Hutu-led rebel group comprised mostly of fighters who carried out the genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda in 1994. The CNDP, manned primarily by ethnic Tutsis of Congolese origin, sees this rebel group as an existential threat, and says the Congolese Army has done too little to push them out of Congo.

The Congolese government of President Joseph Kabila, argues that it can only deal with external threats after it has disarmed, integrated, or neutralized internal armed groups, and UN peacekeepers have found themselves in the position of helping the weak and corrupt Congolese government bring peace to the region.

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