Congo rebels demand government sign ceasefire for talks

Thu Jan 3, 2013 12:34pm EST
 
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By Elias Biryabarema

BUNAGANA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Congolese rebels on Thursday threatened to walk away from this week's peace talks to end their nine-month revolt unless the government signs an official ceasefire, a demand Kinshasa dismissed as unnecessary.

The rebel March 23 Movement, preparing for talks on Friday in Kampala, capital of regional mediator Uganda, said government troops had reinforced positions in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and warned it would resist an offensive.

"If Kinshasa continues to refuse to sign a ceasefire, M23 is going to ask its delegation to return to DRC. We will wait and when they say 'we're ready to sign (a ceasefire)' we'll go back," Jean-Marie Runiga, head of the rebels' political wing, told reporters in Bunagana, a border town under rebel control.

The first attempt at peace talks to end the nine-month rebellion in Congo's volatile east failed last month amid threats and accusations.

A government spokesman dismissed the rebel demand.

"There's no point in a ceasefire. When did we declare war?" Lambert Mende told Reuters by telephone. "This group wants permission to kill Congolese without the army reacting, and we will never accept that. If they attack us, attack the people, the army will defend the people."

Negotiations began last month after regional leaders secured a rebel pull-out from the city of Goma in Congo's eastern North Kivu province. The front lines have been quiet since, although the talks quickly stalled in a climate of deep mistrust.

Foreign powers fear the conflict could spark another regional war in a borderlands zone that has suffered nearly two decades of turmoil. Neighboring Uganda and Rwanda are accused by a group of U.N. experts of supporting the rebel campaign.   Continued...

 
M23 military leader General Sultani Makenga attend press conference in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo January 3, 2013. REUTERS/James Akena