UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tackled two of the world's most intractable conflicts at the U.N. Thursday, urging support for a peace conference to end the escalating violence in Syria and an agreement to stop nearly two decades of fighting in eastern Congo.
America's chief diplomat presided over a U.N. Security Council meeting on the conflict in Congo, trying to shine a spotlight on a corner of the world where horrors occur daily but are usually overshadowed by the turbulence in the Middle East.
Later, he met with leaders of the Syrian National Coalition, the Western-backed opposition group, to promote an international conference and a political solution to the civil war.
The Security Council met to assess progress in implementing a Feb. 24 peace accord signed by 11 African nations to end eastern Congo's conflict. Amid renewed fighting between Congolese government forces and the M23 rebels, Kerry said progress on the peace deal has been "extremely fragile."
He expressed deep concern about reports that key rebel groups are receiving "external support."
He did not single out any country, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier this week that the U.S. believes there is credible evidence that Rwanda has been supporting the M23 rebel group. Psaki called on Rwanda to immediately end such support and withdraw military personnel from eastern Congo.
The U.N. has accused both Rwanda and Uganda of aiding the M23, which captured the eastern Congo city of Goma in November 2012 before pulling out under international pressure. Human Rights Watch said in a recent report that the M23 is receiving training and supplies in Rwanda and was able to recruit there.
Rwanda, which has a two-year seat on the Security Council, and Uganda both deny aiding the M23. Both are signatories of the February peace deal.
Congo, a nation of 70 million people that is the size of Western Europe, has been plagued by decades of war. Its vast forests are rife with militias that have systematically used rape to destroy communities.
Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, said that in her four months in the post, "not a day goes by without a report of killings, rape, sexual assault and displacement of people" in eastern Congo.
"What strikes me is the lack of outrage and horror at this daily toll," she said.
At the start of its meeting, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning renewed rebel attacks in Congo and demanding that all armed groups immediately disband and disarm.
The council made no mention of outside support for the rebels. Diplomats said Rwanda objected to some proposed language in a draft presidential statement related to the M23 and it was softened.
Robinson went further than the council, saying: "Sadly, there are credible reports of some activities in support of armed groups by different signatory parties to the framework" peace agreement.
The council statement also expressed concern over increased activity in eastern Congo by the FDLR, a Hutu armed group linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and reported attacks by the FDLR on Rwandan territory.
Congo's Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda strongly denied that his country was supporting the FDLR and pledged that "justice will be done" in cases of rape and other abuses.
Despite the renewed fighting, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said prospects for durable peace in eastern Congo "remain better than they have for many years."
He cited the reinforcement of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo with an intervention brigade to confront the threat from "spoilers," including M23 and other armed groups.
The brigade has an unprecedented mandate to attack and disarm rebel groups, alone or with Congolese army troops. But Ban said the key to peace is having all signatories implement the February agreement.
The foreign ministers of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo pledged support for the peace accord.
"Rwanda is eager to do its part and live up to its commitment," Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said.
Addressing Syria's conflict, Kerry stressed that "there is no military solution."
"There is only a political solution, and that will require leadership in order to bring people to the table," Kerry said, standing beside Ban before the council meeting began.
Ban announced that the Syrian conflict has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011, up from an estimate just over a month ago of 93,000.
Kerry met Thursday afternoon with the newly elected leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed al-Jarba, who flew to New York from Paris after talks with President Francois Hollande.
At the meeting, France pushed for humanitarian corridors in Syria, and Hollande discussed the delegation's demands for weapon deliveries to its combatants.
Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Kerry's meeting with the opposition provides an opportunity to "discuss with them not only the situation on the ground, but the path forward towards a political solution." She said they will also discuss ways to bolster U.S. assistance to local communities in Syria.
The National Coalition delegation is expected to meet a number of U.N. ambassadors later Thursday. On Friday, the opposition group will meet informally with the Security Council.
Associated Press Writer Peter James Spielmann contributed to this report from the United Nations.