Congo says no talks with rebels unless they quit Goma

Sun Nov 25, 2012 9:05am EST
 
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By Jonny Hogg and Richard Lough

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Congo said on Sunday it would not negotiate with M23 rebels in the east until they pulled out of the city of Goma, but a rebel spokesman said Kinshasa was in no position to set conditions on peace talks.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila met with M23 for the first time on Saturday after an urgent summit in Uganda where regional leaders gave M23 two days to leave Goma, which the rebels seized six days ago after U.N.-backed government troops melted away.

Eight months into a rebellion that U.N. experts say is backed by neighboring Rwanda, the rebels have so far shown no sign of quitting the lakeside city of one million people.

The rebels say they plan to march on other cities in the east, and then strike out across the country to the capital Kinshasa, across 1,000 miles of dense jungle with few roads, a daunting feat achieved 15 years ago by Kabila's father.

Amani Kabasha, a spokesman for M23's political arm, welcomed the meeting with Kabila but questioned the government's resolve to end a crisis that risks engulfing the region.

"Why put conditions on talks? You pose conditions when you are in a position of strength. Is the government really in such a position?" Kabasha told Reuters in Goma, which sits on the north shore of Lake Kivu at Congo's eastern border with Rwanda.

Vianney Kazarama, the rebels' military spokesman, said government forces that had been reinforcing along the shores of the lake were now deploying in hills around the rebel held town of Sake and government-held Minova, both Goma's west.

A U.N. source in Minova said government soldiers had gone on a looting spree for a second straight night there. The town was calm on Sunday but gunshots rang out overnight, the source said.   Continued...