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Peace eludes eastern Congo as rebels, govt talks put off to Jan 4

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Congolese government army troops ride on trucks through Goma in eastern DRC on December 3, after rebel M23 fighters ended an almost fortnight-long occupation in line with a regionally brokered deal. Photo/AFP

Congolese government army troops ride on trucks through Goma in eastern DRC on December 3, after rebel M23 fighters ended an almost fortnight-long occupation in line with a regionally brokered deal. Photo/AFP 

By GAAKI KIGAMBO Special Correspondent

Posted  Saturday, December 29   2012 at  16:50

In Summary

  • Talks in Kampala between Kinshasa and M23 rebels to resolve the crisis peacefully were adjourned and will resume on January 4.
  • The Congo government has not made any ceasefire deals with the rebels who have entered into informal agreements with regional leaders to stop fighting on two previous occasions.
  • The rebels now claim that the government is delaying the talks while reinforcing its positions in and around Goma to attack them. The rebels are located just three kilometres outside the main town centre.

People living in Goma, the provincial capital of troubled North Kivu, and those in neighbouring communities in Rwanda and Uganda, will begin the New Year unsure of whether the temporary calm in the city will evolve into a more stable peace or whether the conflict that started in April will resume.

Talks in Kampala between Kinshasa and M23 rebels to resolve the crisis peacefully were adjourned and will resume on January 4.

The talks will go on for longer because they broke off on an unpromising note after the government delegation declined to assent to the rebels’ demand for a permanent ceasefire.

Instead, the matter was offloaded to the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism, which was set up by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to address cross-border issues between Rwanda and the DRC.

The Congo government has not made any ceasefire deals with the rebels who have entered into informal agreements with regional leaders to stop fighting on two previous occasions.

The rebels now claim that the government is delaying the talks while reinforcing its positions in and around Goma to attack them. The rebels are located just three kilometres outside the main town centre.  

“People are still moving away from their homes on reports of troop movement, but we don’t know whether they are from the government or the rebels,” said Bernadette Muongo, who co-ordinates the Support Programme for Women Victims of Conflict in eastern DR Congo.

“The population is suffering at the moment and we would like to appeal to both sides to cease fire permanently,” she added.

Ms Muongo is part of a coalition of women peace activists from North Kivu. Isis-Wicce, an international women’s organisation, put the group together to demand direct participation in the talks, which have excluded women.

The coalition includes civil society groups that are left picking up the pieces after communities have been broken up by conflict.

“In Congo, war has been largely fought on women’s bodies and the impact of this cannot be underestimated,” the coalition said in a joint statement.

“No due consideration has been given to women to participate and be active and decisive players in determining the future and destiny of their country. Therefore, there is no meaningful peace negotiation without the perspective and voice of women to reflect their needs and concerns,” the group added.

The talks suffered an earlier setback when the Congo opposition, which is widely believed to have won the 2011 polls, declined to participate, claiming that the talks are personal deals between President Kabila and the rebels that have nothing to do with the DRC as a country.

Col Paddy Ankunda, the media adviser of Dr Crispus Kiyonga, Uganda’s Minister of Defence and the talks’ chief facilitator, says having a permanent ceasefire will be on top of the agenda when the talks resume.  He said the talks are not discriminating against any group of people.

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