Bertrand Bisimwa, the president of the March 23 Movement (M23), wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa, saying that the Congolese government declined to negotiate at recently-reconvened peace talks in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
M23 rebels also believe the Congolese army and its allies are preparing an imminent attack against them, the letter added.
“Government delegates arrived in Kampala on Wednesday to tell the mediator that they will no longer negotiate with M23,” Bisimwa wrote.
M23 president’s letter said that Congolese government forces are arresting suspected supporters of the group, especially Rwandophones.
The rebels who speak speak Kinyarwanda, the language spoken in neighboring Rwanda, are called Rwandophones.
Rwanda and Uganda are accused of financing and directing rebels in the eastern Congo, an accusation both countries deny.
“In addition, government secret services are arresting a lot of people in Goma (over 50 persons to date), most of whom are Rwandophone people. Some of them have already been transferred to Kinshasa or taken to unknown locations,” Bisimwa’s letter stated.
The M23 rebels seized the eastern city of Goma on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city, which is home to about one million people. The rebels withdrew from the city on December 1, 2012 under a ceasefire accord.
Peace talks between the Congolese government and M23 began in December 2012 but broke down in April. The talks were scheduled to restart this week.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said on Friday that the government did not break off the peace talks with the rebels, adding that the Ugandan government had asked Kinshasa and M23 to present proposals.
“What the government is waiting for now is for the facilitator to deliver to both parties a synthesis of the proposals… The M23 wants to restart with things that we’ve talked about for six months. They are trying to buy themselves time,” Mende stated.
The spokesman also said the Congolese army cannot be censured for preparing for an attack against the rebels on its own territory.
He denied that the security forces were particularly rounding up Rwandophones.
“We have nine people who have been transferred to Kinshasa,” he said. “Only two of them are Rwandophones.”
In February, 11 African countries signed a UN-mediated peace agreement to end the crisis in the east of the DRC, which led to the establishment of a special brigade of UN peacekeepers with a mandate to attack rebel groups.
Several armed groups, including the M23 rebels, are active in the east of the DRC and fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
Since early May 2012, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.