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Regional leaders meet over crisis in Congo

RODNEY MUHUMUZA

KAMPALA, Uganda – Regional leaders met in Uganda on Saturday in the latest summit intended to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Congo as the M23 rebel group takes territory from the army and threatens to topple President Joseph Kabila’s government.

Uganda, whose leader is acting as a mediator, has had its credibility tarnished by revelations in a U.N. report that some of its military officials actively support M23 rebels, who last week took control of the provincial capital Goma as well as the city of Sake in Congo’s east. Rwanda is also accused of supporting the rebels. Both countries deny the charges.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete also attended the Kampala summit, which is being held under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR, of which Congo is a member.

A previous summit of the ICGLR endorsed the creation of a “neutral international force” to police eastern Congo. Tanzania has already offered to contribute some of the 4,000 troops needed, but the force’s mandate is not yet clear and funding remains a problem.

Kabila was in Uganda for the talks Saturday, but Rwandan President Paul Kagame was absent. Ugandan officials said M23 representatives were not invited to the summit and denied reports that Jean-Marie Runiga, the M23’s political leader, was in the country for separate negotiations with the Ugandan government.

“I have not seen them,” Crispus Kiyonga, Uganda’s defense minister, who held meetings with some M23 officials before Goma was captured, said of the rebels. Ugandan officials say previous meetings with M23 rebels were held with the knowledge of Kabila, who at first declined to negotiate with the rebels but later changed his stance.

“This is a summit for regional leaders, not a negotiation meeting.

“The rebels cannot be in the summit,” said Okello Oryem, Uganda’s deputy minister of foreign affairs.

M23 is made up of hundreds of officers who deserted the Congolese army in April. Since then the rebels have occupied vast swaths of territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo, and their capture of Goma last week put pressure on Kabila to negotiate with the rebels, who accuse his government of failing to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal that incorporated them into the national army. The rebels took Goma without much of a battle.

M23 leaders insist they will attempt to capture the Congolese capital of Kinshasa if Kabila does not negotiate directly with them.

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