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Sat Oct 25 10:45:31 SAST 2014

Kabila must take rebels' demand for talks seriously

The Times Editorial | 23 November, 2012 00:07

The Times Editorial: The stability of a swathe of Africa is threatened by the advance of a rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The M23 rebels stunned Africa watchers on Tuesday when they captured the eastern provincial capital of Goma while UN peacekeepers, including a battalion of South Africans, watched helplessly.

M23, formed earlier this year, is led by deserters from the Congolese army and calls itself the March 23 movement after the date of a failed peace deal signed in 2009.

The group, which is armed with heavy-calibre weapons, including 120mm mortars, is said to be backed by tanks and artillery. It comprises mainly of members of the Tutsi ethnic group, which straddles the borders with neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi.

Some observers believe the latest conflict has its roots in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, when Hutu soldiers and militia killed about 800000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Crucially, M23 appears to have the backing of Rwanda, which has long been accused of interfering in the mineral-rich but troubled eastern DRC.

Congolese government troops melted away as the rebels captured Goma - much to the embarrassment of President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, 1600km away. After taking Goma, the rebels pressed south towards Bukavu, grabbing Sake along the way.

Few analysts believe that M23 can carry out its threat of ''liberating'' Kinshasa and the entire DRC, but it does seem entrenched in the east, where previous conflicts have roped in several regional powers.

On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Congo Republic and Zambia urged other African nations to supply troops to an international force to fight the rebels.

A more lasting solution would be for Kabila to enter into negotiations with the rebels, ensure that the mineral wealth of the east is more equitably shared and overhaul the army.

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