DRC rebels, govt to hold peace talks

2012-12-05 07:50
M23 rebels in Goma (File, AFP)

M23 rebels in Goma (File, AFP)

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Goma - Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo will hold peace talks with government officials in Uganda, officials said Tuesday in Goma, the key mining hub that the guerrillas seized before pulling out.

Negotiations will begin "in the next few days in Kampala," Interior Minister Richard Muyej Mangez said, a day after soldiers returned to the strategic eastern city, the capital of the mineral-rich province of North Kivu.

M23's political leader Jean-Marie Runiga said the rebels were "ready" for talks, which are expected to include a raft of potential rebel demands, including major political reform for the war-weary region.

The rebels' lightning capture of Goma on 20 November, eight months after the army mutineers launched an uprising against the government, had sparked fears of a wider war and major humanitarian crisis.

Their withdrawal was widely welcomed, although rebels still remain close to the city, and have not yet pulled back the full 20km agreed in a regionally brokered deal.

Mangez said the government would send a "full team" including leaders of key institutions, civil society leaders and members of the national assembly and senate.

However, it is not expected that President Joseph Kabila - who the rebels have demanded step down from power - will attend initial negotiations.

Dozens of government army trucks crammed with heavily armed soldiers entered Goma on Monday to secure the city of a million people and reassert their authority after 12 days of rebel rule.

New evidence

The regional capital was slowly returning to normal life, with commercial banks opening on Tuesday, and ferries on Lake Kivu, a major traffic route, due to resume on Wednesday, officials said.

At the same time, UN experts produced what they said was new evidence that "strongly upholds" previous accusations that Rwanda and Uganda had backed the M23, although both sides rejected the report.

"We have been, and are still involved in, the search for peace and stability in DRC," Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told reporters in Kigali.

"Political talks is the next step after M23 withdraw from Goma."

But the report, obtained by AFP on Monday, says that Rwanda and Uganda helped the M23 stage their offensive, with more than a thousand Rwandan troops joining the force that took Goma as Uganda provided "logistics" support.

"Sources estimated that, in total, well over 1 000 RDF (Rwandan) troops came from Rwanda to assist M23", the report read.

Both Kigali and Kampala have strongly denied involvement in the conflict.

Britain last week froze $33.7m in aid to Rwanda following what it said was "credible and compelling reports of Rwandan involvement with M23".

"Aid is not charity nor everlasting," Mushikiwabo added. "Rwanda and Africa are getting ready for the post-aid era and that era is coming."

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