South African President Kgalema Motlanthe on Sunday backed calls for a ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and said UN peacekeepers should have a stronger mandate to deter the violence.

Speaking on behalf of leaders of Southern Africa at the start of a regional summit, Motlanthe said that the conflict in the eastern Congo did not have a military solution.

“We call for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to the displaced people,” he said.

“We firmly believe that there is no military solution to the problem,” Motlanthe said at the opening of an emergency summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

He echoed concerns voiced by Kenya on Saturday that the UN peacekeeping force known as MONUC did not have a strong enough mandate, but called on the blue helmets to defend civilians caught in the conflict.

“We therefore encourage MONUC to continue to provide protection to the civilians. We also feel that their current mandate limits their ability to become real peace-makers and provide for a lasting solution,” Motlanthe said.

The peacekeepers’ mandate does not allow them to engage in active clashes in eastern DR Congo, where pro-government troops are battling rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) led by renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda.

The United Nations and humanitarian aid groups said the latest round of fighting had displaced 253,000 civilians since September — and left at least 100 dead.