African presidents urge Congo rebels to abandon war

Sat Nov 24, 2012 5:20pm EST
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By Jonny Hogg and Elias Biryabarema

GOMA/KAMPALA (Reuters) - African leaders called on eastern rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday to abandon their aim of toppling the government and leave the city of Goma they captured this week.

The appeal came from heads of state of the central African Great Lakes region who fear that if left unchecked the offensive by the M23 rebels could drag the volatile, ethnically-diverse and mineral-rich region back into another bloody conflict.

Meeting in the Ugandan capital Kampala, they urged M23 to abandon its threat to overthrow the elected government in Kinshasa and to "stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma".

The rebels responded by saying that the Congolese army was reinforcing in the east in preparation for launching counter-offensives on their positions.

"M23 warns the government forces against this new military adventure. We must react with vigour to discourage this new war-like initiative," the movement's political wing said.

The regional leaders' plan proposed deploying a joint force at Goma airport comprising of a company of neutral African troops, a company of the Congolese army (FARDC) and a company of the M23.

The leaders told M23 to withdraw from current positions to not less than 20 km (12 miles) from Goma town within two days, but did not say what the consequences would be if the rebels did not comply.

A spokesman for the Congolese army, known as FARDC, said M23 was illegally occupying territory in the east of the vast country and started the conflict.   Continued...

Congolese Revolution Army (CRA) rebels sit in a truck as they patrol a street in Sake, 25 km (15.5 miles) north of Goma city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 21, 2012, soon after the rebels captured the town from the government army. The United Nations defended its failed effort to prevent rebels from seizing the Congolese city of Goma, saying on Wednesday its helicopters had fired hundreds of rockets at rebels but were unable to beat them back when their forces sharply increased. Advancing M23 rebels seized the city on Tuesday after soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo's army fled. REUTERS/James Akena