The Congolese government says 600 rebel fighters in the east have deserted renegade leader Laurent Nkunda and joined the army. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar that analysts say the government is in a difficult position, because its army does not have the strength to wipe out rebel forces.
Rebel leader Nkunda refused Monday to comply with a government deadline for his ethnic-Tutsi rebel fighters to disarm or rejoin the national army. He said negotiations had to take place first.
But Congo Defense Minister Chikez Diemu says the government extended the deadline, because Nkunda's men are joining the national army every day. He says it is only a matter of time before the rebel troops are fully integrated.
"You could have within the integration process almost 600 guys coming from Nkunda within the 21 days. It is a very positive sign," he said.
He says no new deadline has been set, but that armed fighters who do not join the national army will be treated as criminals.
"Now as far as Nkunda is concerned it should be also very clear that the army is going to invest itself to put an end to Nkunda's adventures," he added.
Fighting erupted between government and rebel forces in the eastern province North Kivu in late August. A U.N.-negotiated ceasefire eased the violence for almost three weeks, but fighting broke out again at the end of September.
The national army says it has killed about 100 rebels during recent confrontations.
Analyst Muzong Kodi, of the London-based research group Chatham House, says the government needs to take a strong stand against Nkunda's fighters.
"The government has to stamp its foot and put an end to impunity in that country," he explained. "We cannot continue to have rebels confronting the government everywhere."
He says Nkunda should not be given the luxury of negotiations.
"This is just going to send the wrong message to the rest of the potential rebels around the country that the shortest way to the negotiation table and to juicy positions in government is by taking arms," he added.
But he says the Congolese army is not strong enough to oust the rebels with force.
"The major problem is that the Congolese army has not been properly reformed to the point where it can impose peace in the country-that is really the limitation that the government has," he noted. "And I think somewhere they do not have any choice, but to try and find a way of solving this problem peacefully."
Senior Analyst Jason Stearns, of the non-governmental organization International Crisis Group, says there has been pressure from the international community for both sides to negotiate. But he says President Joseph Kabila has so far refused talks.
"In the past he has been very very clear on this matter," he said. "The only thing he will accept is Nkunda to go into exile without amnesty and for his troops to integrate the Congolese army without any conditions."
He says Nkunda is not likely to concede to president Kabila's demands without conditions.
"He said he is willing to integrate his soldiers into the national army, but has not specified under what conditions, and I am fairly sure there are conditions," he added.
He says those conditions include ensuring important positions for his men within the army and the protection of ethnic Tutsis in the region.
Nkunda says his men are protecting local ethnic Tutsis against the army, which he says is allied with former ethnic-Hutu rebels from Rwanda.
According to the United Nations, fighting in eastern Congo has forced more than 370,000 Congolese from their homes since the beginning of the year.