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Congo May Block Plans to Guard Goma Airport With Mixed Force

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Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo may block plans to deploy a combined force of M23 rebels and national army forces to guard the airport in Goma, Interior Minister Richard Muyej said.

An accord between the rebels, Congo’s government and neighboring Rwanda and Uganda last month called for joint control of the airport using a company of soldiers each from the M23, the army and a “neutral force” along with United Nations peacekeepers. The UN currently controls the airport.

“What’s important is that the airport is totally secured and there is not a dangerous coexistence that could create suspicions and bring us new conflict,” Muyej told reporters in today in Goma, capital of Congo’s North Kivu province.

M23 fighters withdrew from Goma on Dec. 1 in anticipation of direct negotiations with President Joseph Kabila after controlling the city for 11 days. The rebels have remained in a ring around the city, within a 20-kilometer (12-mile) neutral zone they had agreed to leave, Brigadier-General Bansi Ponnappa, the commander of the UN’s North Kivu brigade, told reporters at the airport.

The rebel group and Congolese officials will hold talks tomorrow in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Ntumba Luamba, executive secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, told reporters in Bujumbura, the Burundian capital. “Technical teams” representing the Congolese government and the rebels are already in Kampala preparing for the political negotiations, he said.

‘Peace Deal’

“All parties are ready for talks,” Luamba said. “Everyone is ready for a peace deal.”

Goma airport is expected to reopen by tomorrow, Muyej said. M23 spokesman Colonel Vianney Kazarama’s mobile phone didn’t connect when Bloomberg called him seeking comment.

Commercial banks in the city reopened today and the central bank’s offices may reopen tomorrow, Muyej said. About 1,000 Congolese police have deployed in Goma to protect the civilian population, General Charles Bisengimana, the national head of police, told reporters in Goma. The rebels stole all police vehicles as they withdrew, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Kavanagh in Kinshasa at mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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