Kampala — Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan and Ugandan counterparts, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, held crisis talks in Uganda a day after rebels captured the eastern DRC town of Goma, amid fears the situation could escalate into a much wider conflict.
Kigali has consistently denied charges - leveled by DRC and a UN panel of experts - that Rwanda provides military backing to the M23 rebels who captured the city, which lies on the Rwandan border and has not been in rebel hands since 2004. Uganda has also denied supporting the rebels.
Threat of a new regional war
The summit followed a UN Security Council demand that M23 immediately withdraw from Goma and refrain from further advances. On 21 November, the group announced plans to march to Kinshasa.
Resolution 2076 also condemned M23's human rights abuses, including summary executions, gender-based violence and large-scale recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution also imposed targeted sanctions on the group's leadership.
According to an official summary, during the Security Council meeting in New York, DRC representative Seraphin Ngwej accused Rwanda of "presenting a serious threat to international peace and security in the sub-region, through the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity of a state."
Rwanda's Olivier Nduhungirehe then told the Council his country had been "subjected to rocket attacks from the DRC, resulting in fatalities."
On 20 November, the International Crisis Group (ICG) declared: "Regional and international actors must now prevent this turning into a new regional war."
"Long-term solutions will require that the UN Security Council, African Union and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region ensure that peace agreements and stabilization plans no longer remain empty promises. To achieve this, coordinated and unequivocal pressure on the Congolese government and the M23 rebel movement, as well as the latter's external supporters, is required from international donors and regional actors," ICG said.
Urging broad talks
The rapid capture of Goma on 20 November came soon after Kabila dismissed the idea of negotiating with M23, saying DRC would only talk to Rwanda.
But calls for broad talks are mounting.
"The condemnation and sanctions used to target the M23 leaders is unproductive and prioritizes the military option to continue. Now the rebels have captured Goma and are willing to negotiate; the government should honour this," Angelo Izama, analyst and a fellow at the Open Society Institute, told IRIN.
In a 20 November report, the Enough Project's associate director for research Aaron Hall concurred, writing: "Sanctioning the leadership of M23 alone is not enough. The US should support the United Nations to quickly appoint an envoy to work with the African Union that would create a peace process to include all those actors that perpetually fan the flames of conflict in the region.
"Until the systemic drivers of violence and regional intervention in eastern Congo are addressed, this scenario will just repeat itself on a constant loop," he added.
Ugandan lawyer and opposition politician Norbert Mao said, "The solution to the conflict is a national broad dialogue in DRC involving all the key stakeholders, whether armed or not. The M23 are fighting because Kabila reneged on an agreement he signed in March 2009."
"The African Union, which has been quiet, should play a role in ending the DRC conflict. Any process mediated by Uganda or Rwanda will always lack credibility because of suspicion over their past roles in the country," Nicholas Opiyo, a constitutional and human rights lawyer in Kampala, told IRIN.
"Uganda and Rwanda are not clear on what they are doing in DRC," he said.
"If they are not involved in the war, as a matter of urgency, Rwanda and Uganda should take concrete measures to condemn and isolate M23. They should offer their unconditional support to the DRC government either militarily or by way of talking in an effort to end the conflict," he continued.
A problem of leadership
The Kampala summit took place alongside a meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, whose proposal to deploy a "neutral force" in eastern DRC to "eradicate" M23 and a Rwandan rebel group has made little progress for lack of funds or offers of troops.
In early November, Rift Valley Institute analyst Jason Stearns, summarizing his Usalama project report, wrote that "various policy options should be considered - none of them easy or straight-forward - including decentralization, cross-border economic projects, land reform, and the complete overhaul of the stabilization program for the Kivus".
On the streets of Goma, a man in his 50s, who asked not to be named, repeatedly told IRIN the situation was "not good."
"My family and I are sick of war. We've seen the armies of the [government and different rebel groups]; now this. We can't continue in this way. We are given no choice. It's a problem of leadership", he said.
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations