DR Congo conflict: M23 rebels urged to stop war

DR Congo people flee from Sake on a road linking Goma and Bukavu on 23 November. People have been fleeing the conflict, with the UN warning that food and medicines are running short

A summit of four African heads of state has urged rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo to cease fire and stop threats to depose the government.

The leaders also told the M23 group to leave the eastern city of Goma, which they captured on Tuesday.

Later the rebels said they had met DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, and would hold talks with him.

The summit was held in Uganda which, alongside Rwanda, has been accused of backing the rebels.

Both countries deny the charges.

The UN has warned of a humanitarian crisis, with food and medicines running short.

Armed groups have battled over mineral-rich eastern DR Congo for two decades.

Joint force

President Kabila and the presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania attended the Uganda talks but the Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame, stayed away. He was represented by his foreign minister.

Map

M23 leader Jean-Marie Runiga was also in Kampala.

The four presidents issued a statement calling on M23 to "stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma" and "stop talk of overthrowing an elected government". Mr Kabila was also urged to listen to the rebels' grievances.

Rebels have rejected previous calls to leave Goma, the capital of North Kivu province and the main city in eastern DR Congo.

However, Mr Runiga said a withdrawal was possible, but could only come about from talks with Mr Kabila.

He said he held a meeting with Mr Kabila to arrange the talks, and that despite some tensions the meeting had gone "very well".

"Direct negotiations are scheduled between us and Kabila tomorrow," he said, quoted by AFP news agency.

Who are the M23 rebels?

M23 rebel in North Kivu town of Rubare near Rutshuru. 5 Aug 2012
  • Named after the 23 March 2009 peace accord which they accuse the government of violating
  • This deal saw them join the army before they took up arms once more in April 2012
  • Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army
  • Mostly from minority Tutsi ethnic group
  • Deny being backed by Rwanda and Uganda
  • Believed to have 1,200 to 6,000 fighters
  • International Criminal Court indicted top commander Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda in 2006 for allegedly recruiting child soldiers
  • The UN and US imposed a travel ban and asset freeze earlier this month on the group's leader, Sultani Makenga

The presidents' statement also proposed:

  • That the DR Congo government should evaluate the "legitimate grievances of M23"
  • M23's withdrawal from current positions to at least 20km (13 miles) from Goma within two days
  • A joint force of neutral regional troops, government soldiers and rebels at Goma airport
  • That Goma police be rearmed and resume duty
  • That UN Monusco peacekeepers occupy the neutral zone between Goma and M23
  • Supervision of the process by army chiefs of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo

About 500,000 people have been displaced by the rebellion since it began in April, with the formation of M23 after a mutiny in the army.

The rebels said they were not given army posts promised in a 2009 deal to end a previous uprising.

Their exact aims are unclear but they have also advanced beyond Goma, taking the town of Sake despite a loyalist fight-back.

They had threatened to attack the capital, Kinshasa, if President Kabila did not open negotiations with them.

The UN has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23, saying the chain of command culminates with Rwandan Defence Minister James Kabarebe.

The M23's gains have raised fears of renewed war in DR Congo, where some five million people died in a conflict from 1997-2003.

The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution condemning the rebel seizure of Goma and calling for sanctions against M23 leaders.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled as the rebel forces have advanced, scattering from villages and refugee camps.

The United Nations' children's fund Unicef says hundreds of children have been separated from their parents. It warns that many of them risk being recruited by armed groups.

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