Congo's M23 rebels set conditions for disbanding

AP News
Posted: Sep 08, 2013 12:48 PM

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The leader of eastern Congo's M23 rebel movement said Sunday the group will disband only if another rebel group that is composed of ethnic Rwandan Hutu fighters is disarmed and Congolese refugees return home from neighboring countries.

"We are ready to disarm but for these two conditions," Bertrand Bisimwa, the M23 president, told The Associated Press by phone.

He said the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, should be disarmed before M23 can be disbanded. In the past Rwanda has justified military intervention in Congo to protect itself from the FDLR, some of whose core members took part in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Bisimwa's comments came on the eve of renewed peace talks with Congo's government in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The talks have repeatedly stalled since they started last December, and Congolese President Joseph Kabila said on Saturday that government troops were prepared to resume their offensive against the rebels if the talks failed.

The M23 rebel group, which briefly captured the eastern city of Goma last November, is made up of hundreds of Congolese soldiers mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group who deserted the national army last year after accusing the government of failing to honor the terms of a deal signed in March 2009. The rebels are widely believed to be backed by the government of Rwanda, a charge Rwanda denies despite evidence presented by United Nations experts and Human Rights Watch.

In the recent fighting, however, Congolese troops were boosted by a special intervention brigade of U.N. troops who, unlike the other 17,000 peacekeepers stationed in the vast Central African nation, have a mandate to attack the rebels.

Bisimwa said that if M23 disbanded its fighters would have no interest in being integrated into the Congolese army.

"Nobody is interested in anything else," he said. "M23 will not be a political party. Each one will take care of his cabbages and carrots, because we are herders, farmers and merchants."

Lambert Mende, the Congolese government spokesman, said Sunday that Kabila's administration had no problem with the conditions set by M23, noting that the government has long been working for the return of refugees and considers the FDLR to be "a negative force just like M23."

Both conditions, however, would be difficult to meet, especially given the government's inability to stabilize Congo's volatile east.