|Published:||Dec 05, 2012 10:41 AM EST|
|Updated:||Dec 05, 2012 10:41 AM EST|
GOMA, Congo (AP) - Congo's M23 rebels are sending a delegation to Kampala, Uganda, to negotiate with the Congolese government on Thursday, a rebel spokesman said Wednesday.
The diplomatic efforts come as this eastern Congo city of 1 million returns to normal life, following two weeks of occupation by the rebels, and despite the fact that the insurgents remain just 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away in the hills above the city.
The M23 rebels - who are backed by Rwanda according to the United Nations - have threatened to retake Goma unless President Joseph Kabila's government starts negotiations with them over conditions in the army as well as broader issues such as the constitution and need for fresh elections.
"Our delegation will go to Kampala tomorrow (Thursday). But it seems that the Congolese government is not ready to comply with what we agreed when we pulled out of Goma. It does not seem the government understands that it is not up to them to decide the terms at this point," said Bertrand Bisimwa, the spokesperson of the M23 political branch, reached by phone Wednesday.
Despite the rebels' retreat from Goma, which was a prerequisite set by the Congolese government for negotiations, the government has not yet confirmed if it will talk with the rebels. On Sunday, government spokesman Lambert Mende said Kabila would listen to M23's grievances and then respond.
"I hope for Kabila's sake that the negotiations happen, because we have nothing to lose," said M23 political officer Stanislas Baleke. "Next time we won't stop at Goma, we'll go all the way to Uvira (350 kilometers or 218 miles to the south)."
In a worrying sign, the M23 rebels remained in tactical positions in the hills above Goma, saying they would retake the city if the government does not respond to their complaints.
The rebels say they are fighting for the better implementation of a March 23, 2009, peace accord, which spelled out conditions for them to be integrated into the national army. But the real reason for their rebellion is Rwanda's desire to annex the mineral-rich mountains of eastern Congo, according to a recently published report by a U.N. group of experts.
After occupying Goma for nearly two weeks, the M23 rebels pulled out of Goma over the weekend under intense international pressure, including fresh sanctions from the U.N. Security Council. They said they would retreat 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside the city, but rebel outposts can be seen in tactical positions above the city.
Despite the uncertainty, the U.N. peacekeeping force is working with the Congolese government to get Goma back to normal life.
"We are projecting to reopen the airport tomorrow, but we cannot guarantee 100 percent at this stage," said Madnodje Mounoubai, spokesman of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO.
Mounoubai said he did not think the presence of M23 rebels just 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away poses a threat to getting the airport to operate again. Humanitarian assistance was already being delivered at the airport on Wednesday. A helicopter flew in a UNICEF delivery of 80,000 vaccines for internally displaced children, he said.
In recent weeks, the enormous, jungle-covered nation of Congo, whose capital is more than 1,000 miles away from Goma, inched closer to war with its smaller, but more developed neighbor, Rwanda, which is accused of sending soldiers and arms to the M23.
Congo's Interior Minister Richard Muyej, speaking to reporters in Goma, said that they are working hard to fill the power vacuum that was left by the rebels' departure. "We shall work very hard to re-establish the authority of the state as fast as possible," Muyej said.
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