November 21, 2012 / 12:48 PM / in 5 years

Great Lakes states seek troops to fight Congo rebels

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from nine African countries on Wednesday urged other nations on the continent to contribute troops to an international force to fight rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s turbulent east, a Ugandan government spokesman said.

The plea - which comes at a time when the M23 rebels appear to have the Congolese army on the backfoot - was signed by Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Congo Republic and Zambia.

“The meeting called on the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to mandate the neutral international force and seek the support of the United Nations Security Council to deploy the neutral force,” said spokesman Fred Opolot.

The Congolese and Rwandan presidents, Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame, met on Wednesday in Kampala to try to bring an end to the conflict in eastern Congo. The M23 rebels took control of the eastern city of Goma on Tuesday, saying they planned to “liberate” the vast central African country.

Separately, foreign ministers held a parallel meeting in Kampala as part of a regional effort to end the crisis. That meeting was held under the auspices of the 11-state International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), that includes Congo and Rwanda and is chaired by Uganda.

Congo, Rwanda and their Great Lakes region neighbors agreed in July on a plan to tackle the rebellion in Congo’s North Kivu province, which has raised tensions in the region and displaced thousands of civilians.

The regional states agreed to a 4,000-strong force to try to neutralize the M23 rebels, but this has so far failed to get off the ground, largely because there is disagreement over the composition of the force.

So far, only Tanzania has offered to contribute troops, but it was not immediately clear how many.

“The meeting of the foreign affairs ministers urged member states of the ICGLR and other African countries to contribute troops as soon as possible, and welcomed the offer by Tanzania to contribute troops to the neutral international force,” a statement handed to reporters after the ministers meeting said.

The foreign ministers also condemned the M23 rebels.

“(The ministers) condemned the M23 rebel movement for violation of the cessation of hostilities by capturing the city of Goma disregarding (the) ceasefire brokered by the chairperson of the ICGLR,” the statement said.

The ICGLR regional grouping also includes Angola and the Central African Republic, but they were not represented at the meeting and did not sign the document.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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