Congo says to return to negotiations with rebels on Monday

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 06, 2013 12:26 PM
Congo says to return to negotiations with rebels on Monday

By Bienvenu Bakumanya

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo said on Friday it would return to negotiations with eastern rebels next week after regional leaders set a two-week deadline for peace talks to end an 18-month-old rebellion.

A summit of five African presidents from the Great Lakes region called on Thursday for Congo to restart the stalled talks with the M23 insurgents within three days, after military successes left the government in a stronger position.

With the help of a new U.N. Intervention Brigade, which has a tough mandate to neutralize armed groups, Congo's army has pushed M23 fighters away from Goma, a city of 1 million people on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila opened Ugandan-hosted talks with the M23 after the rebels briefly seized Goma late last year but negotiations stalled as the government pursued a military solution. Peace talks with the Tutsi rebels are unpopular with many in the vast, former Belgian colony.

The insurgents have repeatedly called for a return to the negotiating table.

"Democratic Republic of Congo will be present in Kampala on Monday, in accordance with the heads of state statement," Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said. "If the minister is not there, the ambassador will be there."

Francois Mwamba, spokesman for Congo's delegation in Kampala, told Reuters that Ugandan mediators were due to present a draft peace deal on Monday and the two sides would then have two weeks to present their amendments.

Millions of people have died from violence, disease and hunger since the 1990s as foreign-backed ethnic rebel groups have fought for control of eastern Congo's rich deposits of gold, diamonds and tin, destabilizing the Great Lakes region.

Kinshasa had recently insisted it would not negotiate with M23 until it laid down its weapons. The rebels accuse Congo of violating a 2009 peace deal which pledged to incorporate its fighters into the army, and of supporting Hutu rebels in the region who have terrorized the local Tutsi population.

A military standoff has prevailed since the M23 pulled back to Kibumba, some 30 km (18 miles) north of Goma, last week with U.N. forces reluctant to pursue the rebels deep into the forests of North Kivu province.

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Tensions have been fanned by accusations from U.N. experts that Rwanda is backing the rebels. Kigali denies supporting M23 but last week threatened to send its army into Congo after it accused its neighbor of shelling its territory.

Mary Robinson, U.N. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, said a peace deal would not be made at the expense of holding people accountable for war committed in eastern Congo.

"We are not going to repeat the errors of the past. We are very convinced that we do not need an amnesty for people who have committed serious crimes," Robinson said, according to U.N. Radio Okapi, in comments translated from French.

(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by David Lewis and Mark Heinrich)