GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Negotiations between the Congolese government and eastern rebels are expected to take place this week, regional officials said on Tuesday after the insurgents withdrew from the city of Goma.
The eight-month insurgency by M23 rebels poses the biggest threat to Congolese President Joseph Kabila in years and risks developing into a war that could drag in neighboring armies.
Two officials from Uganda, which has been brokering peace talks between the Congolese government and M23, said the two sides were expected in the Ugandan capital Kampala this week.
A high-ranking Congolese official also said a Congolese delegation including lawmakers and a minister was due in the Ugandan capital this week for talks.
Rwanda has also been part of a regional effort to end the latest bout of violence in the tinder-box region. Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said peace talks were critical.
“What’s next is negotiations between the M23 and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. That should happen in the next few days,” Mushikiwabo told a news conference in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
Rwanda has a history of meddling in Congo’s conflicts but President Paul Kagame has repeatedly denied involvement in the latest fighting. He has accused Congo and world powers of seeking a scapegoat for their failures.
Congo’s eastern borderlands have suffered nearly two decades of conflict stoked by ethnic and political enmities and fighting over the region’s rich resources of gold, tin, tungsten and coltan - a precious metal used to make mobile phones.
A fresh rebellion erupted after Tutsi former rebels that had been integrated into Congo’s army under a previous peace deal mutinied in April, calling themselves M23.
An M23 spokesman, Amani Kabasha, confirmed they were awaiting a call from regional mediator Uganda, which brokered the rebel retreat from Goma to positions 20 km outside the city, to return to Kampala for peace talks with Kinshasa.
“(Our withdrawal from Goma) was the condition for Kabila to agree to dialogue. It is the price we are paying for dialogue,” Kabasha said by telephone from the Congolese border town of Bunagana. He said the rebels still harbored doubts about Kabila’s sincerity over negotiations.
Kinshasa re-established control of Goma on Monday following the rebels’ exit, though the city remains tense in the absence of any definitive peace accord.
“I want to make clear that if we have accepted to negotiate it is not a sign of weakness,” Congolese Interior Minister Richard Muyej said on a visit to Goma on Tuesday.
“WE‘RE DONE WITH THE ACCUSATIONS”
Rwanda has repeatedly rejected allegations made by U.N. experts that senior Kigali officials have created, equipped, trained and directly commanded the rebels in Congo’s North Kivu.
The latest accusations in a November 26 letter by the group of experts to the U.N. Security Council said Rwandan troops had operated alongside M23 fighters in the advance on Goma.
“As far as this government is concerned, we’re done with the accusations. It’s a distraction that we don’t need. But for those who enjoy fiction, go for it,” Mushikiwabo said.
Donors, however, are taking the charges seriously.
On Friday, Britain, one of Rwanda’s largest aid partners, became the latest Western nation to freeze aid to the country which depends on such support for about 40 percent of its budget.
Rwanda called London’s decision disappointing and said suspensions of aid were counter-productive.
“It’s a problem because we now have a situation where we have to readjust our budgets. How does that stop the crisis in eastern DRC?” Rwandan Foreign Minister Mushikiwabo said.
The Great Lakes area, where colonial era borders cut through ethnic groups, has in the last 20 years been a crucible of conflict and ethnic rivalry that has launched multiple uprisings and invasions.
Kagame’s government says Rwandan Hutu rebels who fled to eastern Congo after the 1994 genocide have attacked Rwandan territory twice in the last week.
Mushikiwabo said the FDLR, or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, did not at this time present a security threat to Rwanda.
“We will avoid being sucked into Congo’s wars. But you should rest assured that if anything coming from the FDLR becomes persistent or serious again, we will respond very seriously,” Mushikiwabo said.
Rwanda has in the past cited the presence of the FDLR as a reason for sending troops into neighboring Congo.
Additional reporting by Kenny Katombe in Goma and Richard Lough in Nairobi; Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa and Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and Jenny Clover in Kigali; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Jon Hemming