The Democratic Republic of Congo says it is ready to re-start peace talks with the M23 rebels in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, according to the central African country’s Information Minister Lambert Mende.
Mende says President Joseph Kabila’s administration intends to find a political solution to the conflict in the restive North Kivu province following renewed clashes between the national army [FARDC] and the M23 rebels.
“Our delegation has never totally left Uganda. So anytime we are ready, even [Friday] we are ready, for the talks,” said Mende. “What we need as a government is [for] the M23 to disarm themselves and dissolve as an armed group. We cannot discuss with them while they are still armed and killing our people.”
Mende’s comments came after heads of state in the Great Lakes region demanded a resumption of the stalled peace talks between the Congolese government and the rebels.
M23 rebels have also said they are ready resume peace talks with the Kinshasa government, agreeing to a demand from leaders of Africa’s Great Lakes region.
“Our delegates are already in Kampala. They are ready to negotiate with Kinshasa immediately as soon as the request has been passed on by the mediator,” M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa told AFP news agency over telephone.
The African leaders, who met Thursday in Kampala to find ways of ending the conflict, demanded the talks begin within three days and end within 14 days.
Some analysts say the breakdown of the peace talks led to a resumption of the conflict in the North Kivu province. But, Mende denied the talks with the rebels have stalled.
“We have never stopped these talks. We have given to the facilitator our draft for conclusions and so did the M23, so both of us were waiting the synthesized documents from the government of Uganda, so as to approve or reject [the proposals],” said Mende. “So what the heads of state say did not disturb us at all. We really need to finalize these talks and we are happy that they [the African leaders] have put a deadline of 14 days.”
The leaders also urged the United Nations Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, to keep up pressure on the rebels to end the insurgency.
The summit marked a rare opportunity for Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame to hold face-to-face meetings at a time when their countries are on edge over Rwanda’s alleged military involvement in eastern Congo.
Mende says the rebels are to blame for the renewed clashes. He says the M23 attacked unarmed civilians despite talks in neighboring Uganda to address their concerns.
“They started attacking the FARDC in the field. So, now if they accept to resume talks, [then] let them stop fighting in the field. They are Congolese and we are very ready to discuss with them, so it is a good thing if we can resume talks,” said Mende.
Mende says conflict-weary Congolese are hopeful the government would end the conflict.
“The Congolese are expecting peace,” said Mende. “The Congolese are expecting [that] our neighbor Rwanda stops interference in Congolese affairs, stops giving guns to some of our compatriots to kill other compatriots, and that is what we are expecting from this meeting with M23.”
The Rwanda government sharply denies accusations it supports the M23 rebels fighting the DRC government.
The rebel movement was launched by Tutsi soldiers who mutinied from Congo’s army in April last year and turned their guns on their former comrades.