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September 12, 2013

Uganda ‘Encouraged’ With DRC, M23 Peace Talks

by Peter Clottey

Uganda says it is encouraged over the progress of the peace talks between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the M23 rebels.

“The government of Uganda is, so far, upbeat [and] is appreciative because both parties are present [and] they have set the ground rules, one of which is that the talks should proceed within two weeks,” said Ofwono Opondo, spokesman for Uganda’s government. “We hope we can iron out outstanding issues within those two weeks if need be, perhaps there could be extension.”

Opondo says both sides including a representation from the United Nations Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) have shown commitment during the renewed talks.

“They started yesterday and the whole of today and they haven’t come out, save for slight break during lunch and evening,” said Opondo.

He says Uganda is also encouraged by the decision of the two groups to continue with the talks despite existing differences.

“The mere fact that both parties agreed to come to Kampala to the negotiating table that was a good step, said Opondo. “There has been acrimony in the room but, nobody has stormed out of the meeting. And so we think all the sticking issues -- the roundtable is the place to iron out the sticking issues.”

Talks between the Congolese government and the rebels resumed after heads of state in Africa’s Great Lakes region demanded a resumption of the negotiations.

The African leaders, who met last week in Kampala to find ways of ending the conflict, demanded the talks begin within three days and end within 14 days.                                                         

Opondo says the government in Kampala hopes the M23 rebels will stop fighting the Congolese national army (FARDC) to give peace a chance as the talks continue.

“We expect that there would be no fighting, either provocation from M23 or the Congolese government, or indeed the U.N. force. We expect the guns to be silent,” said Opondo.

He says the ongoing talks are part of a process to help resolve the security crisis in the Congo.

“I don’t think these talks would resolve all of the issues in the DRC, because the issues in the DRC are larger,” said Opondo. “These particular talks surround M23 [and] the need for them to lay down their arms.”

Opondo said the talks also will deal with “the need for the Congolese government to accept them [M23], and if possible perhaps re-integrate the fighting forces into the main stream army; demobilization of those who want to surrender and go home and do other things, and the third issue is not giving amnesty to those who have been indicted with serious war crimes [and] crimes against humanity.”

The government in Kampala has urged the Congolese administration to find other measures to resolve the challenges the country faces, he said.      

“The first step is for the government of the DRC to ensure that it is accommodating, as democratic as they can,” said Opondo.

As for the M23 rebels, Opondo said, “Uganda cannot accept them back and Rwanda has said it won’t accept them, so the only way out for them is to accept a negotiated settlement which gives them safety, either back into government for those who want or to join, other private endeavors for those who don’t want to be party to government.”
Clottey interview with Ofwono Opondo, Uganda government spokesman