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Tue Sep 23 22:25:28 SAST 2014

DRC rebels demand ceasefire

Sapa-AFP | 19 December, 2012 14:09
A M23 rebel fighter with a plaster covering his wound on his forehead walks as they withdraw near the town of Sake, 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma in eastern Congo November 30, 2012.
Image by: JAMES AKENA / REUTERS

Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels on Wednesday demanded Kinshasa sign a formal ceasefire, accusing officials of dragging out peace talks to bolster the army's position on the ground.

"The government is refusing to sign a ceasefire," said the rebels' political chief Jean-Marie Runiga told AFP.

"Without first signing a ceasefire agreement it is difficult to continue with the negotiations," he added, referring to talks which opened in the Ugandan capital earlier this month.

The talks are the latest in several bids to end a long-running conflict that has forced more than 900 000 people in war-torn eastern DR Congo from their homes.

The M23 rebels' lightning capture of the mining hub of Goma on November 20, eight months after the army mutineers launched an uprising against the government, had raised fears of a wider war and a major humanitarian crisis.

M23 fighters, army mutineers largely from the ethnic Tutsi community, pulled out of Goma 12 days later, but still control large parts of the chronically volatile but mineral-rich east.

On Tuesday, government spokesman Lambert Mende accused the rebels of not fully withdrawing the 20 kilometres (12 miles) they had agreed to.

But Runiga in turn accused the government of stalling talks to allow it and militia forces - such as the extremist Hutu FDLR rebels, who the rebels accuse of being in collaboration with the army - to strengthen its positions.

"The government is not really committed to finding a solution through negotiations but is trying to gain more time to reinforce its position on the ground and its alliances with groups like the FDLR," he said.

The ceasefire heads a raft of demands the rebels have made to the government, including a call for major political reform for the war-weary region.

A list of rebel demands compiled by Ugandan Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga - who is mediating the talks despite allegations Kampala has supported M23 - incorporates an earlier 2009 peace deal the M23 say was not implemented.

M23 grievances include the failed integration of their troops in the army, including that their rebel ranks were not respected in the national force, and that their salaries were sometimes not paid.

They also accused President Joseph Kabila of cheating in 2011 elections, and also complained there is "no big store, no supermarket" in eastern DR Congo, according to Kiyonga's list.

Eastern DR Congo, which borders Rwanda and Uganda, was the cradle of back-to-back wars that drew in much of the region from 1996 to 2003. They were fought largely over its vast wealth of gold, coltan and cassiterite, key components in electronic goods.

Both Rwanda and Uganda have been accused of backing the fighters, with a UN report quoting sources that more than 1 000 Rwandan troops fought alongside the rebels, while Kampala provided logistical support.

Kigali and Kampala have denied involvement in the conflict.

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Tue Sep 23 22:25:28 SAST 2014 ::