Congo rebels not ready to return from Uganda

AP News
Posted: Dec 08, 2014 10:22 AM

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Members of the former Congolese rebel group known as M23 should not be sent back from Uganda until the Kinshasa government honors the terms of a peace deal as the deadline approaches for their repatriation, an M23 spokesman said Monday.

Lawrence Kanyuka said "nothing had been done" to convince them that Congo's government is ready to receive them. Kanyuka and other M23 leaders, including U.N.-sanctioned rebel commander Sultani Makenga, are now based in Uganda.

Hundreds of M23 rebels fled to Uganda and Rwanda late last year amid a U.N.-backed Congolese military offensive in eastern Congo, where the rebels once controlled vast swaths of territory. Congo's government and the rebels signed a peace agreement in December 2013 that urged the repatriation of all fighters by the end of 2014.

That deadline is likely to be missed, with the rebels insisting the conditions are not right for their return amid a resurgence of violence in eastern Congo, where many armed groups have often competed for control of mineral-rich land.

M23, which was widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, was made up of hundreds of soldiers who deserted the Congolese army in April 2012 after accusing the government of failing to honor the terms of an earlier deal that incorporated them into the national army.

M23 has recently warned of a possible return to serious violence unless the Kinshasa government steps up security in the country's lawless east. M23 said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press Monday that "it denounces and strongly condemns" what it sees as the government's unwillingness to offer a blanket amnesty to all former fighters.

Fred Opolot, a spokesman for Uganda's foreign ministry, said a group of Congolese government officials were in Uganda last week to discuss the repatriation of the former rebels, many of whom are being held in a military camp in western Uganda.

Congo's government insists some among the rebels must face trial for alleged crimes committed in eastern Congo.