Angola says it's poised to send troops to Congo
But leaves unclear its intentions in joining the conflict
GOMA, Congo - Angola announced yesterday that it is prepared to send troops to neighboring Congo, increasing fears that the fighting in this central African nation will engulf other countries in the region.
Deputy Foreign Minister Georges Chicoty did not say how many troops might go to Congo or what their mission would be, and it was unclear whether they would be acting as peacekeepers or supporting the government in its fight against rebels led by former general Laurent Nkunda.
The presence of Angolan soldiers in the volatile region would probably be seen as a provocation to Rwanda, which battled Angolans during Congo's 1998-2002 war. The four-year-conflict ripped Congo into rival fiefdoms, with rebels supported by Uganda and Rwanda controlling vast swaths of territory rich in coffee, gold, and tin in the east. Angola and Zimbabwe sent tanks and fighter planes to back Congo's government in exchange for access to diamond and copper mines to the south and west.
Congo asked Angola for political and military support Oct. 29, as Nkunda's rebels advanced on the provincial capital, Goma. Associated Press reporters have already seen Portuguese-speaking soldiers wearing green berets with pins in the shape of Angola appearing to guard a road alongside Congolese soldiers.
Fighting in Congo intensified in August and has since displaced at least 250,000 people despite the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world. United Nations officials say both the rebels and government troops have committed crimes against civilians.
Nkunda called a unilateral cease-fire Oct. 29, but fighting has persisted.
After meeting Tuesday, members of the UN Security Council and the Congolese ambassador said broad agreement exists for beefing up the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Congo, which has been unable to stop the fighting or halt the rebel advance.
"The idea is more or less approved," Congo Ambassador Ileka Atoki said.
A rare nighttime gunbattle erupted late Tuesday between rebels and the army just north of Goma, at Kibati, where at least 75,000 people have sought refuge from the fighting.
"There is a big tension because there are so many people there, and it's so close to Goma," UN peacekeeping spokesman Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said.
A few miles to the south, thousands of people lined up to get survival kits being handed out from five Red Cross trucks. The kits contained buckets, blankets, soap, hoes, and cooking utensils, said Abdallah Togola, a Red Cross official in Kibati.
Togola said the area was reaching its capacity to handle refugees.