— A meeting of central and east African leaders has ended with calls for the M23 rebel forces to immediately stop fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The announcement followed a meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region - a bloc of east and central African countries - in Kampala. The extraordinary meeting was organized after M23 rebels took the key eastern Congolese city of Goma earlier this week.
The summit, attended by the presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, the DRC and Uganda and officials from seven other countries, called for the rebels to end their threats to overthrow the Congolese government. The regional leaders told the rebels to immediately withdraw at least 20 kilometers north of Goma so Congolese troops and police officers could regain control of the city.
Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa read the 10-point declaration, which also emphasized the Congolese government’s role in ending the conflict.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo government to listen, evaluate and resolve the legitimate grievances of M23, including the work already done by the organization,” said Kutesa.
Shops closed in Sake a day after M23 rebels took control of the town following overnight battles with the Congolese army, DRC, November 23, 2012. (G. Joselow/VOA)
Fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people from the town of Sake, west of Goma, DRC, November 23, 2011. (G. Joselow/VOA)
With IDP camps filling up since the rebellion in eastern Congo began in April, newly displaced people are sleeping in churches until they can find a place to settle, DRC, November 23, 2012. (G. Joselow/VOA)
Displaced people from the town of Sake gather at the Mugunga camp on the road to Goma, DRC, November 23, 2012. (G. Joselow.VOA)
Families flee fighting between the Congolese army and M23 rebels in the town of Sake, DRC, November 23, 2012. G. Joselow/VOA)
The regional body also called for a composite force of neutral troops and soldiers of the Congolese government and M23 to be stationed at Goma’s airport. An earlier meeting of the conference had recommended a neutral regional force be deployed in eastern Congo, but the latest meeting did not clarify which countries would provide troops.
The conference’s plan echoed a message issued by the presidents of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC after a two-day meeting earlier this week. The M23 rebels have reportedly rejected the previous call to end their campaign, instead demanding peace talks with Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
But Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo, who was standing in for President Paul Kagame, says the latest meeting was an important reinforcement.
“We expect the M23, as well as the government of the DRC, to abide by the deal that has been brokered by this organization,” said Mushikiwabo.
The chiefs of Uganda’s defense forces will lead the execution of the plan, with supervision from Rwandan and Congolese military officials.