The Democratic Republic of Congo’s rebel M23 group called for direct talks with President Joseph Kabila on ending its rebellion and warned the government not to reinforce its troops in the resource-rich eastern region.
Congolese government officials met members of M23 yesterday in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, and the rebels will make a decision on their next move once they’ve has been briefed on those discussions, Lieutenant-Colonel Vianney Kazarama, a spokesman for M23, said in a phone interview.
“We want inclusive, direct talks with the president,” he said yesterday.
M23 captured Goma on Nov. 20 after ending an unofficial three-month cease-fire with the Congolese army, which has fled the city close to the border with Rwanda. The renegade group is made up of soldiers who mutinied in April and is headed by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. A United Nations group of experts monitoring Congo’s arms embargo has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, allegations both governments deny.
Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces are one of the world’s largest sources of columbite-tantalite, the mineral known as coltan that’s used in mobile phones and computers. The central African nation is also the continent’s biggest producer of tin ore, most of which is mined in the Kivus. Banro Corp., based in Toronto, operates the Twangiza gold mine about 200 kilometers south of Goma in South Kivu.
Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. of the U.S., Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore International Plc, and Minmetals Resources Ltd., based in Hong Kong, have copper and cobalt projects in Congo. Randgold Resources Ltd. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. are investing in gold mines in the country, which is about the size of Western Europe.
The talks between the Congolese government and M23, which began in Uganda in August, have been given new impetus after a summit of regional leaders on Nov. 24, James Mugume, permanent secretary in Uganda’s Foreign Ministry, said in a phone interview yesterday from Kampala.
The 12-nation International Conference on the Great Lakes Region agreed to deploy a “composite” force, including government and M23 soldiers and a group of “neutral” guards, to protect Goma airport within two days, while calling for the rebels to move at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the city.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the accord and said he’s “determined to ensure that the UN presence in the Congo be adjusted to respond to the evolving challenges.” The UN has more than 19,000 peacekeepers in Congo.
Regional leaders are also expediting the planned deployment of a neutral military force to combat M23 and other rebel groups in eastern Congo, Mugume said. The force has been approved by the African Union and is awaiting the go-ahead from the UN Security Council, he said.
“We could get the force by January,” Mugume said. The financing of such a mission has yet to be made final, he said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who wasn’t among the delegates at the Nov. 24 summit that included Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, welcomed the outcome of the meeting.
In a joint statement issued with Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Kagame urged neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo’s government and M23 to “commit to implementing the Kampala decisions as these represented an important opportunity to resolve the conflict.”
“They also noted the importance of correctly assessing and understanding the real nature of the various armed groups in the DRC so that appropriate solutions are found for each,” according to a statement e-mailed by the presidency in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
Soldiers and weapons have been flown into eastern Congo since M23’s capture of Goma, capital of the North Kivu province, forced the army to flee, the rebel group said in an e-mailed statement. M23 has given “clear and firm instructions” to its forces to “react vigorously in order to discourage this war-like initiative,” it said.
Angola, Congo’s southern neighbor, denied a report on an unidentified Congolese radio station that it plans to troops to fight the M23 rebels, the government-owned Jornal de Angola reported, citing Manuel Augusto, state secretary in the Foreign Ministry. Angola wants a “durable solution that does not include war,” Augusto said.