KIWANJA, Congo, Dec 11 (Reuters) – A European Union envoy urged Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda on Thursday to show flexibility to advance faltering U.N.-backed peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
EU Development and Aid Commissioner Louis Michel met renegade Tutsi General Nkunda near Kiwanja, a rebel-held town in North Kivu province where human rights groups say 150 civilians were massacred by rebel and militia fighters in early November.
"I urged some flexible proposals with Nkunda," Michel told reporters. He flew to meet the rebel chief after a U.N. mediator complained that Nkunda's demands were delaying progress in talks with Congo's government aimed at forging a lasting peace.
Nkunda's fighters have routed the government army and captured large swathes of North Kivu since August, sending around a quarter of a million people fleeing for their lives.
He has demanded direct negotiations with Kabila, who won 2006 elections, on Kabila's leadership and on Congo's future.
"We must concentrate first of all on the problems in the east of Congo and not try to discuss everything," Michel said, indicating he had passed on this message to Nkunda from U.N. mediator Olusegun Obasanjo.
"President Kabila is legitimately elected. There is a parliament that is elected democratically. Those who want to contest that legitimacy have to wait until the next elections," Michel said.
Obasanjo, a former Nigerian President, chaired peace talks this week in Nairobi, Kenya between representatives of Nkunda and Congo's government. But he complained that progress was slow because the rebel negotiators lacked authority to make decisions and were making demands beyond the scope of the talks.
A rebel-declared ceasefire in North Kivu seems to be holding, but aid workers say a humanitarian emergency is still raging and many families are out of reach of aid workers in zones controlled by Nkunda's rebels or pro-government militias.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said on Thursday most of the Nov. 4-5 killings in Kiwanja were carried out by Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels.
Nkunda's CNDP has denied killing civilians but said it cleared out Mai-Mai militia from the town.
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A U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, at 17,000-strong the largest in the world, has failed to halt the violence in North Kivu and aid workers have been clamouring for additional foreign military protection to be able to extend their work.
But U.N. reinforcements are not due to arrive for months.
Relief agencies, backed by international personalities, have appealed for a rapid reaction from the European Union, but EU divisions mean no decision has been taken yet.
"EU troops would free up U.N. peacekeepers to strengthen bases in more remote areas, such as Kiwanja, and help prevent further atrocities," Human Rights Watch's senior Africa researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said in a statement.
The Nairobi meetings are the first face-to-face talks since Nkunda launched his rebellion in 2004, initially to protect fellow Tutsis in eastern Congo from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels who crossed into Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Having routed Kabila's weak and chaotic army in weeks of fighting, Nkunda now talks of a broader rebellion and has threatened to march on the distant capital, Kinshasa.
A draft report from a U.N. panel of experts accuses Congo's Tutsi-led neighbour Rwanda of backing Nkunda's rebels.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Rosemary Museminali denied the charges. "We are not supporting CNDP. We are not sending forces, we are not sending arms," she told reporters in Kigali.
Nkunda's CNDP also denied the allegation.
"If we had Rwandan government support, we would already be in Kinshasa," CNDP rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said.
The U.N. experts also accused Congo's army of supporting Rwandan Hutu militia in eastern Congo. The 15-nation U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss their report on Monday. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/) (Additional reporting by Themis Hakizimana in Kigali and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Pascal Fletcher)
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