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Saturday 1 November  

African Union urges DR Congo rebels to stop war

Published on 26 November 2012 - 3:25am
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The African Union called Sunday on rebels occupying a key town in eastern DR Congo to stop fighting, as diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continued amid fears of wider conflict in the unstable region.

The AU echoed a call by regional heads of state at a summit on Saturday for the M23 rebels to stop fighting and withdraw from the regional capital of Goma, and welcomed a commitment by the DR Congo government to resolve the rebels' grievances.

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, " the AU said in a statement.

"The summit... outlined a 10-point plan that provides for the immediate withdrawal of the M23 elements from all the locations they recently occupied, as well as the establishment of security arrangements to monitor the situation on the ground," the statement added.

Dlamini Zuma reiterated the "AU's deep concern at the worsening humanitarian situation on the ground and the abuses committed against the civilian populations."

The political leader of the M23, Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, said he expected to hold further talks Sunday with DR Congo President Joseph Kabila after seeing him on Saturday night after the summit of the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes.

It was not clear if new talks had started yet.

Uncertainty meanwhile hung over the fate of Goma, the capital of the restive province of North Kivu.

Leaders at Saturday's summit in the Ugandan capital said the rebels should withdraw to positions at least 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of the town, which the guerrillas -- former army soldiers who staged a mutiny in April -- seized on Tuesday.

That would mean the rebels returning to the positions they held before launching the assault that claimed Goma.

The regional leaders said the pull-out should be done within two days.

Runiga Lugerero, however, made it clear that any withdrawal would only come after talks between the rebel movement and Kabila. M23 fighters will defend their positions if government troops attacked, he warned.

The M23 was launched by former fighters in an ethnic Tutsi rebel group who were integrated into the military under a 2009 peace deal that they claim was never fully implemented.

In exchange for a pull-out, the DR Congo government said at the summit it was committed to "listen to, evaluate and resolve any legitimate grievances" the M23 has.

An AFP reporter in Goma said M23 rebels were still present in the city Sunday. He said troops from the United Nations peacekeeping mission MONUSCO were also more visible than in previous days.

A Western diplomat in the region said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had agreed to meet directly with M23's military leader Sultani Makenga. There was no immediate confirmation either from the Ugandan presidency or from M23.

Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso was meanwhile in the Rwandan capital Kigali on the second day of a two-day visit, meeting with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame -- who was notably absent from Saturday's summit in Kampala.

Officially Sassou is there to discuss bilateral relations, but the conflict in eastern DR Congo is also expected to come up.

The United Nations and DR Congo have accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23 -- charges both countries deny.

Rwandan President Kagame, an ethnic Tutsi, has in particular been persistent in rejecting accusations that his government is backing -- and effectively running -- the mainly Tutsi M23 force.

Uganda's Museveni has also sought to distance himself from the charge by playing the role of mediator in the past few days and hosting Saturday's summit.

The M23's advance has displaced tens of thousands of civilians, sparked warnings of humanitarian disaster, and raised fears that a wider conflict could again erupt in the area, the cradle of back-to-back wars that shook DR Congo from 1996 to 2002.

© ANP/AFP
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