Ugandan officials: Congo rebels need more time

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 27, 2012 07:30 hrs

Representatives of a Congolese rebel group that now controls the key eastern Congolese city of Goma are holding out for assurances from regional leaders that their demands will be considered after they quit the provincial capital, Ugandan officials said Tuesday, hours after a deadline set by a regional bloc for M23 rebels to leave Goma passed with the rebels still in charge.

The bloc representing nations in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa had given the M23 rebels an ultimatum to quit Goma by midnight Monday. M23 fighters captured the city last week and then threatened to topple the government of Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

Okello Oryem, Uganda's deputy foreign minister, said Tuesday that the rebels need more time as well as reassurance that their grievances will be taken seriously. The rebels are widely believed to be backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

"It's the assurance that they wanted from President Yoweri Museveni (of Uganda)," Oryem said. "It's a question of another day or two" before the rebels pull out, he said.

M23 representatives, who are in talks with top army officials in Uganda, are asking "many questions," according to Oryem.

Representatives of the rebels are in talks with Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, Uganda's army chief, who told The Associated Press late Monday that his role was to "communicate with (M23 representatives) the decisions of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region."

Nyakairima did not say whether M23 commander Sultani Makenga, who is subject to a travel ban under U.N. sanctions, is among the M23 representatives he is talking to, but a rebel spokesman in Goma said Makenga traveled to Uganda for talks.

Rene Abandi, M23's head of external relations, said the rebels want all negotiations with the Congolese government to take place in the Ugandan capital Kampala, which has been the site recently of a series of meetings intended to resolve the Congo crisis, including talks between the Congolese government and M23 leaders. But Uganda, like Rwanda, faces allegations in a U.N. report of arming the M23 rebels whose violent takeover of Goma caused thousands of civilians to flee their homes. Both Uganda and Rwanda deny the allegations.

Regional leaders under the banner of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, a regional bloc of which Congo is a member, on Saturday called on the Congolese government to listen to M23's "legitimate grievances."

The regional group is attempting to negotiate an end to the fighting, but it did not threaten any consequences if the rebels don't quit Goma. Uganda and Rwanda belong to the group and they are hardly neutral. Both countries would be unlikely to go to war with M23 over the seizure of Goma.

M23 is made up of hundreds of soldiers who deserted the Congolese army in April. The rebels accuse Congo's government of failing to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal that incorporated them into the national army.

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