Congo rebels call for negotiations with Kinshasa

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By MELANIE GOUBY, Associated Press

BUNGANA, eastern Congo (AP) — Fighting may resume soon in eastern Congo if President Joseph Kabila's government does not negotiate with the M23 rebels, said the insurgents' president, Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga, Saturday.

"We see that the Congolese army troops are moving, they are preparing a final assault against us. If the government does not come to the negotiating table we will have to defend ourselves," said Runiga at a press conference in Bunagana, a town in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the border with Uganda that is controlled by the M23.

The fact that the M23 rebels control a town so securely that it can hold a public press conference with journalists travelling from the provincial capital of Goma, is an indication of the group's success. The M23 say they have also established an alternative government over the areas of eastern Congo that it controls.

Asked by the Associated Press if they thought of taking the initiative and attacking themselves, the M23 president said that they "could take Goma at any moment. ... If we want to wage war, we can. We have the strength."

Runiga has been spending the past weeks in Kampala, where he said he worked with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to try to open a dialog with the Kabila government in Kinshasa.

"Museveni invited us to negotiate with Kabila and asked us to stop fighting. That is why there has been a ceasefire for two months. But Kinshasa does not want to negotiate or to try to find a solution to the crisis quickly. They rather talk with Rwanda," said the M23 president.

A leaked United Nations experts report accuses Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the rebels. It reportedly charges that the Rwandan minister of defence, General James Kabarebe, is directing the M23 rebels.

Runiga said the report is wrong and deplored that neighboring countries are blamed for what are mainly internal Congolese problems. He said the M23 is the result of bad governance in Kinshasa.

"The U.N. report was created by Kinshasa intelligence services. It is a strategy to make people forget that the country is not well managed," he said.

According to Runiga the M23 is receiving new Congolese army defectors every day and does not need the military support of Rwanda and Uganda.

He announced that the military branch of the M23 group has been renamed the Congolese Revolutionary Army (Armée Révolutionaire

Congolaise) and its leader, Colonel Sultani Makenga, has been promoted to general to reflect the growing number of troops under his command.

Runiga strongly denied accusations by a recent Human Rights Watch report that the M23 rebels recruit children into their ranks.

"There are children without parents who come to us to join our ranks but we turn them back and pay for their school fees," he said.

The M23 is a rebellion that was created by Congolese army deserters in May. The members are mainly ethnic Tutsis. Its leaders demand that agreements made with the Congo government when they were integrated in the army in 2009 are respected.

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