The leaders of the two warring countries held a rare face-to-face meeting in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Thursday and called for a quick resumption of peace talks between the Congolese government and the March 23 movement (M23), which is allegedly backed by Rwanda.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni arranged the meeting at a time when Rwandan troops are reportedly gathering near the border with Congo, raising the prospect of another war in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
The UN and Kinshasa have repeatedly accused Rwanda of helping the rebels in Congo. Rwanda has always denied the charges that it is backing the M23, but Kigali has never publicly condemned the militia, which is strengthening its grip over the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu in the eastern Congo.
In a statement issued late on Thursday, the presidents called for peace talks to resume within three days’ time “and conclude within a maximum period of 14 days during which maximum restraint must be exercised on the ground to allow for talks to conclude.”
“M23 should put an end to all military activities, and stop war and threats of overthrowing the lawful government of (Congo),” said the statement.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in army.
The M23 rebels seized Goma, the main city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city. The rebels withdrew from the city on December 1, 2012 under a ceasefire accord.
During a November 24 summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), an 11-member regional bloc, the Congolese government pledged to start peace talks with M23 rebels.
The talks between Kinshasa and the M23 began in December 2012 but broke down in April 2013.
The M23 rebels and several other armed groups are active in eastern Congo and are 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.
Since early May 2012, nearly three million people have fled their homes in eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but about 500,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.