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Congo Rebels Demand Talks With President Kabila

Congolese rebels sit in a truck as they patrol a street in Sake, 25 kilometers north of Goma city soon after the rebels captured the town from the government army, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, November 21, 2012.
Rebels who seized Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo have rejected calls to withdraw from the city and are demanding talks with Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

The head of the M23 rebel group's political arm, Jean-Marie Runiga, told reporters the group is staying in Goma while it awaits dialogue with the president.

Meanwhile, new fighting broke out Thursday in the nearby town of Sake, which M23 said it seized earlier this week.

Who Are the M23 Rebels?

Who Are the M23 Rebels?

  • Named for March 23, the date of a 2009 peace deal
  • Contains fighters once loyal to a rebel army who assimilated into the DRC army, then defected
  • Formed in early 2012
  • Dominated by the Tutsi ethnic group
  • Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army
  • UN experts say the group is backed by Rwanda, which Rwanda denies
VOA correspondent Gabe Joselow witnessed mortars falling near Sake, and said tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing north toward Goma.

The fleeing residents said M23 was fighting a Mai Mai militia that may have formed an alliance with the Congolese army. The rebel group has sent truckloads of reinforcements to the town.

Photo Gallery: M23 Rebels Seize Goma

Kabila issued a joint statement Wednesday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni calling on the rebel group to stop its offensive and pull out of Goma. They also said the DRC government has promised to examine the causes behind the conflict.

The Ugandan and Rwandan presidents voiced support for the DRC government, which the rebels vowed on Wednesday to overthrow.

The DRC has accused both Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23, an allegation both countries deny.

M23 has said its next goal is Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, which is 100 kilometers south of Goma. It said it hopes to overthrow the DRC government.

DRC map, North Kivu province
DRC map, North Kivu province
On Wednesday, the top U.N. official in the DRC, Roger Meece, said the rebels are executing local leaders in Goma who resist the group's authority. The rebels have yet to respond to U.N. accusations of human rights abuses.

Joselow reported the situation in Goma on Thursday was calm, but said people are nervous.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to impose sanctions against M23 leaders. The French-sponsored resolution demands that the rebels immediately pull out of Goma, located on the Rwandan border, and condemns all foreign support for the group.