Regional Leaders Warn Rebels to Abandon Goma in Congo


KAMPALA, Uganda — Rebels occupying Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been given 48 hours to evacuate it or face attack, warned a group of regional leaders Saturday.

If the M23 rebels comply with the order to depart Goma, the Congolese government in Kinshasa has agreed to hold talks with the insurgents, officials from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region said in a statement following a summit.

“The M23 rebels have been given 48 hours to vacate the town and the deployment will take effect after 48 hours from now. The Congolese government will only talk to the rebels after they evacuate Goma,” Ugandan Regional Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem told dpa.

The plan is a reaction to the rebels’ taking earlier in the week of Goma, the main city in the DR Congo’s North Kivu region.

A communique issued from regional leaders — including Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Joseph Kabila of DR Congo, and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania — told the rebels to stop “expanding forthwith and stop talk of overthrowing an elected government.”

Other demands were for the M23 to “stop all war activities,” withdraw from tactically important areas near Goma and to allow police in the Goma region to rearm so they can do their job.

The group also called for three military companies — one from a neutral force from regional armies, another from the Congolese army and the third from M23 — to be deployed at Goma airport while a battalion of the Congolese army and national police will be re-deployed in Goma town

The deployment process will be supervised by the chiefs of defense forces of Congo and Rwanda and be headed by the military chief from Uganda, the communique said.

Rebels from the M23 movement began attacks on government positions in the mainly lawless region in April, capturing several towns on the Ugandan border, forcing tens of thousands to flee to Rwanda and Uganda.

Aid agencies say that hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced in the latest round of fighting.

The rebels have insisted that they be able to retain their position in Goma even while they start negotiations, a stance rejected by the ICGLR.

The Congolese government has accused Uganda and Rwanda of backing the rebels. Following the fall of Goma, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame flew to Kampala for an emergency meeting Wednesday, mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.