KIGALI— United States special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, former senator Russ Feingold, and United Nations counterpart Mary Robinson are in Rwanda on the last leg of a four-day trip to promote peace in the region.
Sounding upbeat about peace prospects and warning all sides against further military action, their joint visit came as Great Lakes regional leaders agreed this week that peace talks between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government and M23 rebels should resume in Kampala within days.
DRC President Joseph Kabila, whose army, with help from the United Nations, successfully pushed M23 fights roughly 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the eastern city of Goma last week, is now in a stronger military position than it has been for some time, but he has committed to restarting the talks.
Addressing a news conference in Kigali, Feingold said he has been pushing Kinshasa to seek dialogue rather than take further military action.
"I specifically urged President Kabila to use restraint," he said. "We do not encourage any attempt by anybody, including the government of Congo, to solve this in a military way. There will not be a military solution."
Robinson, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy to the region, emphasized commitments by Kabila and fellow regional heads of state to conclude Kampala quickly with a peace deal.
"President Kabila participated together with four other heads of state and all the other delegations, and they decided together that there should be a short period of continuation of the Kampala dialogue, because it was felt that actually it could be concluded — after three days [or] within two weeks," she said. "I was in the room when it was taken together by the heads of state."
DRC information minister Lambert Mende has said his government wants to resolve the conflict via talks, but he has also stressed the need for M23 to disarm, because — as he put it — the government cannot negotiate with rebels while they are killing people in eastern Congo.
Robinson was then asked if there is a disarmament deadline for M23 fighters.
"We hope that the Kampala talks, if they conclude well, will immediately provide a process for disarmament," she said. "There’s no timeline for it, but it should start very quickly."
Asked if they are satisfied by Rwanda’s assurances it is not providing cross-border support to DRC-based M23, the envoys said they raised the issue of support for armed rebel groups — for M23 as well as Rwandan rebels FDLR and Ugandan rebels ADF-NALU — in each capital they visited in the past four days.