KINSHASA (AFP) — Fighting between rebels and pro-government forces opened up on new front in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as southern African nations said they were ready to send in peacekeepers.
As Kinshasa warned it may deploy Angolan troops, raising fears of igniting the volatile Great Lakes region, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said it was prepared to provide assistance to the DRC armed forces.
The clashes on the borders of the two provinces of Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu started before dawn on Sunday and prompted thousands of people to flee, the United Nations said.
The fighting that has erupted in August with rebels led by renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, in violation of a January ceasefire, had so far been limited to Nord-Kivu.
Tomaz Salomao, the head of SADC, told reporters after a summit meeting in Johannesburg that the region backed calls for a ceasefire and the creation of a humanitarian corridor.
"SADC should immediately provide assistance to the armed forces of DRC," he said, reading out the summit's communique.
"SADC will not stand by and witness any destructive acts of violence by any armed groups... and if necessary will send peacekeeping forces," he said.
Salomao said a military advisory team would be deployed immediately to lend advice to the DRC's armed forces, while another team would be sent to evaluate the situation on the ground to determine what other help might be needed.
A military monitoring commission will also be dispatched to monitor DR Congo's border with Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, he added.
Salomao said the DRC armed forces needed help to protect the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty.