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Congolese Rebel: We're Interested in Peace

M23 rebel leader Bishop Jean Marie Runiga, addressing press conference, Bunagana, Congo, Jan. 3, 2013.
Congolese rebel leader Jean-Marie Runiga says his M23 group is interested in peace and is willing to give it another chance Saturday when talks with Democratic Republic of Congo's government resume in Uganda.

The discussions, which started in late 2012, had been suspended for the Christmas holidays. According to Fred Opolot, Uganda's government spokesman, only the meeting agenda and rules of procedure were discussed prior to the break.

Runiga will be absent from Saturday's session, from which his group threatened to withdraw on Thursday, unless Congo officials agreed to a ceasefire. The government dismissed the demands, calling them unnecessary.

Opolot said Runiga's absence from this weekend's negotiations should have little impact on the process.

M23 was one of two groups hit by United Nations sanctions on Monday, which included an arms embargo and a travel ban on Runiga himself.

A U.N. expert panel has also accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the rebellion, a charge both countries deny. Runiga also denied that his group has received any form of assistance from any country.

M23 comprises former rebels who were integrated into the Congolese army in a 2009 peace agreement, but deserted early last year complaining of discrimination and poor treatment. The group then launched a rebellion and briefly took the eastern city of Goma before agreeing to withdraw and engage in peace talks.

Fighting has displaced more than 100,000 people in Congo's North Kivu province, aggravating an already serious humanitarian situation in the region.