By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - - Uganda is trying to broker direct peace talks between rebels who have seized parts of eastern Congo and the country's government, but Kinshasa officials so far have refused to negotiate, rebel and Ugandan government sources said on Tuesday.
Some 470,000 civilians have been displaced in fighting between government troops and the M23 rebels in North Kivu province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo since April. The M23 has ties to Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Donors, including the United States, have slashed aid to neighboring Rwanda after a U.N. report concluded Rwandan officials were supplying the M23 rebels with weapons and logistics. Rwanda has denied having any links to rebel groups, including the M23, fighting in eastern Congo.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni hosted talks on Monday attended by Congo President Joseph Kabila, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the leaders of Burundi, South Sudan and Tanzania under the aegis of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a group that has mooted the idea of a regional force to neutralize the M23.
But the talks to get the proposed 4,000-strong force off the ground have so far failed to make a breakthrough.
Museveni directed his defense minister, Chrispus Kiyonga, to convince rebels and Kinshasa officials to discuss the crisis.
While the rebels are willing, the Democratic Republic of Congo has rejected any negotiations with them.
Congo's government spokesman Lambert Mende described suggestions that the government was preparing to talk to the rebels as a "complete lie".
"It is totally false, M23 has been condemned as a negative force by the ICGLR... They are just trying to affect the morale of the Congolese people and create confusion... We have absolutely not changed our position (on non negotiation)," Mende told Reuters by telephone from the Congolese capital Kinshasa.
In Kampala, the rebels' spokesman had said Uganda's defense minister was trying broker talks with the government.
"We want to talk with the Kinshasa government and the Ugandan president has delegated the defense minister who is acting as the mediator," M23 spokesperson, Bertrand Bisimwa, told Reuters.
"We have a delegation in Kampala, we met the minister on Friday and we'll be meeting him again tomorrow (Wednesday) but he has not managed to get us into a meeting with the DRC officials directly."
An official in the Ugandan presidency confirmed Kampala was pursuing efforts to get Congo and the rebels into direct talks but said Kinshasa was "stubbornly opposed" to the idea.
A previous meeting by regional leaders in August failed to agree on whether such a force would be drawn from their own countries or have a broader U.N. make-up.
(Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa; Writing by James Macharia and Michael Roddy)