GOMA, DRC —
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has ruled out what it calls ‘unconstitutional’ demands presented by the M23 rebels at talks in Kampala, Uganda.
The M23 rebellion started out last April as a mutiny by a few hundred soldiers in Congo’s North Kivu province who were calling for the full implementation of a peace agreement signed on March 23, 2009.
This week in Kampala the rebels tabled a much broader list of proposals.
Among other things, they are now calling for the formation of a transitional government, for the results of elections in 2011 to be scrapped, for the resignation of all provincial governors, provincial parliament and senate members, and for the introduction of a federal system of government.
In response, the DRC government issued a 40-page document on Thursday rejecting the rebels' demands, many of which it described as 'unconstitutional,' and defending its implementation of the 2009 agreement. It says this process is ongoing because of financial and security problems, which the M23 has worsened.
The response acknowledges irregularities in the 2011 elections, but says that no dissolution of provincial or national institutions can be envisioned.
The main civil society group in North Kivu province has echoed the government’s position. The head of their group of experts is Djento Maundu, who told VOA that the talks should only be about the implementation of the March 23 agreement, and the return of property stolen by the rebels.
Nevertheless, the government did agree this week to an agenda for the talks that includes ‘political, social and economic questions,’ as well as the March 23 agreement and security questions.
Main opposition joins fray
The DRC’s main opposition parties announced last weekend that they also want to be at the talks, having previously said they would boycott them.
Analyst Maria Lange, who is DRC program director for the NGO International Alert, said the political opposition should be there if the talks are going to involve questions of national politics. She is doubtful, however, about whether the opposition will be able to take part.
"For the moment the Congolese government and I believe the Ugandan facilitation is refusing to include them because it would largely complicate matters and make it more difficult to reach an agreement," said Lange. "M23 had initially welcomed the participation of the opposition, but is now expressing some reticence."
Lange said all parties, including Rwanda, which continues to deny allegations that it has been supporting M23, want to prevent the crisis from spreading.
"There is an enlightened self-interest on the part of all parties to avoid this turning into a regional war. On and off hostilities in various parts of North Kivu certainly cannot be ruled out, but unless some unknown factor presents itself, I think the parties will really try to prevent this escalating out of control," said Lange.
The M23’s demands include giving their leaders the rank of generals in the Congolese army. Many observers think this is their key demand.
Nearly all of the M23 leaders were involved in a similar rebellion in 2009, which ended after the rebels were integrated into the army and given many senior ranks. Lange said the rebels could be integrated again, but the integration would need to be better planned than it was in 2009.