Democratic Republic Of Congo President Joseph Kabila has held direct talks with the leader of the M23 rebels in Uganda, after a regional summit called on them to end their offensive in the east of the country.
Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, the political leader of the eastern DR Congo rebel group, said on Sunday he had an initial meeting with Kabila after the summit in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, ended on Saturday.
Whereas he was not invited to the summit itself, Runiga Lugerero said he had been able to meet Kabila thanks to the mediation of Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, with whom he had been due to hold talks.
“The atmosphere was tense but afterwards, each [side] calmed the debate down because these are not personal problems, but problems of the country” that must be settled, he told AFP news agency by phone.
“I think the meeting went very well.”
On Saturday, regional leaders meeting in Kampala to try and find a solution to the latest crisis in the eastern DRC called on the M23 rebels to cease all hostilities and withdraw from the eastern city of Goma they captured on Tuesday.
However, the rebels rejected this call saying it can only happen after holding talks with President Kabila.
The kampala meeting was however missed by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, one of the key players in the region.
Rwanda and Uganda have both been accused by a UN experts’ report of supporting the M23 rebels though the two east African nations have vehemently denied the allegations.
Meanwhile the African Union has added its voice to the leaders meeting in Kampala by calling on the rebels to stop fighting.
AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma “welcomes the commitment of the government of the DRC to listen, evaluate and resolve any legitimate grievances of the M23. She urges the M23 immediately to take the steps expected of it, “according to an AU statement
The Presidents proposed the following;
- That the DR Congo government should evaluate the “legitimate grievances of M23”
- M23’s withdrawal from current positions to at least 20km (13 miles) from Goma within two days
- A joint force of neutral regional troops, government soldiers and rebels at Goma airport
- That Goma police be rearmed and resume duty
- That UN Monusco peacekeepers occupy the neutral zone between Goma and M23
- Supervision of the process by army chiefs of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo
The news of Kabila meeting the rebel leader is good for the stability of the central African nation that has been plagued by war over the last decade claiming millions of lives and it demonstrates the progress made by the Kampala summit which suggested the two sides coming face to face to solve the crisis.
Who are the M23?
They are fighter from the Tutsi ethnic group who inhabit both Rwanda and the DRC.
On March 23rd 2009, they were integrated into the Congolese army through a peace accord that gave birth to their current name.
The group mutinied after accusing Kabila’s government of failing to live up to the terms of the agreement and formed the rebel movement M23.
The group also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army is believed to have between 1,200 and 6, 000 fighters.
Their top commander Bosco Ntaganda was in 2006 indicted by the International Criminal Court on accusations of recruiting child soldiers.
Sultani Makenga, the group’s leader also saw his assets frozen by the UN and U.S in addition to being slapped with a travel ban.