Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Congo Rebels Agree to Pull Out of Goma

November 27, 2012 1:58 pm

Congo rebels agree to pull out of Goma

By Katrina Manson in Dar es Salaam
Financial Times

Colonel Sultani Makenga, leader of M23 rebels, has said he is withdrawing his troops without condition from Goma, a provincial city in the mineral-rich east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

M23 rebels caught Congo’s army, UN peacekeepers and the international community off guard when they overran Congo’s mineral trading capital Goma last week, as UN peacekeepers stood by. They continued their march west into Masisi, in north Kivu province. UN experts say the rebels are backed by Rwanda, claims that Congo’s neighbour denies.

“We will draw back from Goma, we will leave Masisi – in Masisi we’ve already started gathering up our forces,” Col Makenga told the Financial Times by telephone. It was unclear where Col Makenga was speaking from. Col Makenga said there were no conditions attached to this withdrawal. This contradicts earlier statements given to newswires in Goma by his political chief Jean-Marie Runiga, who made withdrawal conditional on a series of demands that Kinshasa would find difficult to meet.

The situation on the ground remains confusing and there was no immediate sign of a withdrawal.

“The presidents in Kampala asked us to leave and we’ll respect what they demanded. I think that is the way to bring peace – if we have to quit Masisi and Goma to bring peace, we’ll do it,” Col Makenga said in reference to weekend calls from a 12-state regional body, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, for the rebels “to stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma”.

Col Makenga said negotiations with Joseph Kabila, Congo’s president, would start afterwards. “You’ll know [what we want] when the negotiations start,” he said.

It is unclear what role Col Makenga will play in future talks. A senior Congolese official told the FT that, after talks in Kampala, Mr Kabila refused to sit down with any rebel who had been placed under sanctions, which in theory excludes Col Makenga.

The UN Security Council and the US this month placed Col Makenga, an army mutineer accused of “extensive atrocities”, under sanctions after a UN panel report claimed Col Makenga procured weapons, plotted attacks jointly with the Rwandan army, recruited child soldiers and commanded attacks on Congolese villages since April.

“The president has accepted some of their demands,” the senior Congolese official said, adding that Congo would engage in talks with the M23.

Congo had previously said it would speak directly only to Rwanda, whom it accuses of backing the rebels. At the weekend, Rwanda and other regional states demanded M23 withdraw and “stop talk of overthrowing an elected government”.

M23 rebels claim the government reneged on a March 23 2009 peace deal, from which it takes its name, citing terms over pay and rank. Col Makenga refers to himself as a General.

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