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African Leaders Grapple with Fighting in Eastern Congo

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said rebels in Eastern Congo are carrying out "appalling" attacks against civilians. African heads of state met at the United Nations to discuss the conflict, which the United States said Rwanda is fueling by backing those rebels.

Fighters from Congo's M23 rebellion are the biggest challenge to government troops and U.N. peacekeepers in the eastern Kivu provinces.

Ban Ki-moon said earlier this week that rebel attacks include violence against women and children.

"The extent of violence and human suffering in eastern DRC is overwhelming. I deplore the recent military activities of the M23 and the other armed groups in eastern DRC," he said.

African leaders meeting at the United Nations are backing peace talks in Uganda.

But the talks are complicated by persistent reports of Rwandan support for the rebels.

"We reiterate our call for Rwanda to cease any and all support to the M23 and to respect DRC’s territorial integrity, consistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

Publicly accusing a U.S. ally of backing M23 rebels is a bold move for the Obama administration, said Sarah Margon at Human Rights Watch.

"They've told the Rwandans we're putting you on notice," she said. "But what next? And so if the Rwandans don't stop, what will the U.S. be willing to do?"

Rwandan President Paul Kagame denies involvement and says the international community shouldn't focus on M23 rebels when there are so many other groups contributing to instability in Eastern Congo.

The peace talks in Kampala have focused on other armed groups as well.

In an interview with VOA, U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold said that is the only way forward.

"Whatever happens with the Kampala talks, the framework and the peace process involving the countries in the region goes on and will deal with the root and fundamental problems, not just the issue of M23," he said.

But the immediate goal of stopping the fighting is still about M23, says Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa.

"M23 should put an end to all military activities and stop war and threats of overthrowing the lawful government of the DRC," he said.

President Joseph Kabila's troops are moving to re-establish central authority over eastern Congo. But Margon says it's a challenge.

"Without Rwanda ceasing to provide support for the M23, many of the other elements whether it be the upcoming elections in Congo, Congo's extension of governing authority in the east, regional development are not going to be able to happen," said Margon.

Rebels were integrated into Congo's military under an earlier attempt at reconciliation. This time around, Congolese officials say the worst of the M23 leaders will not be granted amnesty in a new peace deal.

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