INTERVIEW-No Congo ceasefire without army pullback -Nkunda

GOMA, Congo, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda said on Friday there could be no ceasefire with the government without an army withdrawal in east Congo to unblock stalled peace talks.

Nkunda met with a United Nations mediator, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, at his home village of Jomba in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province, to discuss how to advance faltering peace negotiations under way in Kenya.

A previous round of talks in Nairobi in December ended with Nkunda's rebels refusing to sign a declaration ending hostilities with the government, or to renew their own unilateral ceasefire, which ended weeks of fighting in October.

Nkunda's Tutsi-dominated National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) says government soldiers and their militia allies have redeployed into U.N.-monitored buffer zones set up to avoid fresh conflict, and it wants them to pull out.

But Congo's U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUC, has said it has detected no Congolese army movements into the areas.

"(Obasanjo) understood. He said MONUC was wrong about these cases, and he said they would verify," Nkunda told Reuters.

"We left these areas in order to open up a space. If this space isn't created, then there is no longer any use signing a ceasefire," he added in a telephone interview.

After launching their offensive in late August, Nkunda's battle-hardened fighters routed President Joseph Kabila's army and captured swathes of territory in North Kivu province, displacing more than a quarter of a million people.

The late October ceasefire ended major battles with government forces but CNDP fighters continued to skirmish with pro-government Mai-Mai militia and Rwandan Hutu rebels.

Six Mai-Mai fighters were killed on Friday, after the militia attacked a CNDP position near Mabenga, 20 km (13 miles) west of the CNDP stronghold of Rutshuru in North Kivu.

When the peace talks resumed on Wednesday in Nairobi, Obasanjo's African Union co-mediator, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, told rebel and government negotiators the two sides had to formalise a ceasefire agreement.

He said plans were well under way for a summit in mid-January to update leaders from Africa's Great Lakes region on the discussions.

Obasanjo had talks with Congolese President Kabila on Thursday and was due to arrive in Kigali later on Friday to meet Rwandan President Paul Kagame as part of his efforts to revive the struggling peace initiative.


Nkunda's meeting with Obasanjo took place as the charismatic rebel leader was facing an open challenge to his leadership of the CNDP from his own military chief of staff.

General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, announced on Monday in a statement ready by a spokesman to the BBC that he had deposed Nkunda.

On Thursday, Ntaganda, known as "the Terminator", told reporters he had the support of the movement and accused Nkunda of obstructing efforts to bring peace to the war-ravaged east.

But Nkunda and other CNDP spokesmen denied this, and said Ntaganda faced punishment for insubordination. One Nkunda aide said Ntaganda's announcement amounted to "high treason".

Nkunda appeared to take a more conciliatory approach on Friday.

"Nothing has changed. There is one member (Ntaganda) who has been disrespectful. We sent the commission to listen to him, to bring him back to his senses. We want him to work with us, to work well," he said.

Nkunda said that a rebel military disciplinary committee had met on Thursday and Friday to discuss Ntaganda's case.

"He has the right to choose. If he makes the wrong choice, well then, he'll face the consequences."

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) (Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Michael Roddy)