President Paul Kagame and his counterpart, President Denis-Sassou-N'guesso of the Republic of Congo, have commended the decisions taken at a regional summit of Heads of State concerning a new rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
President Sassou-N'guesso was in Rwanda on a two-day working visit at the invitation of President Kagame, which he concluded yesterday.
A summit bringing together four Heads of State and other political leaders from the 11 member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), held in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Saturday, demanded the M23 rebels to end their offensive and to withdraw from Congo's main eastern city of Goma.
Stating the importance of finding a political settlement of the ongoing crisis, the summit also asked President Joseph Kabila's government to "listen, evaluate and resolve the legitimate grievances of M23, including taking into account the report of the work already done by the ICGLR."
On Tuesday last week, the rebels, who launched a military campaign against Kinshasa in April after they accused it of breaching the terms of a March 23, 2009 peace deal that had seen them absorbed in the national army, overran the strategic North Kivu Province capital of Goma, and caused widespread fears of an all-out war after they threatened to over throw Kabila's government.
"The Heads of State (Kagame and Sassou-N'guesso) discussed at length the ongoing crisis in Eastern DRC and welcomed the comprehensive resolutions of the ICGLR summit in Kampala," a joint statement reads in part.
It adds, "They called upon the Government of the DRC and the M23 to commit to implementing the Kampala decisions as these represented an important opportunity to resolve the conflict".
They also noted the importance of correctly assessing and understanding the real nature of the various armed groups in the DRC so that appropriate solutions are found for each, stated the communiqué.
President Sassou-N'guesso noted the value of the discussions and breakthrough held earlier last week between Presidents Kagame, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Kabila, and said it "represented an effective framework for building confidence between the DRC and its immediate neighbours".
Both Rwanda and the Republic of Congo are part of ICGLR, which on Saturday admitted South Sudan as its 12th member.
Kagame and Sassou-N'guesso also discussed bilateral, regional and international issues, and expressed satisfaction with the strengthened political and cooperation ties between Rwanda and the Republic of Congo, the statement added.
"President Sassou-N'guesso said this visit to Rwanda was 'an important opportunity to further strengthen the relationship between the two countries'".
President Museveni, in his capacity as the current chair of ICGLR, has hosted at least five extraordinary Heads of State and Government summits in five months, aimed at finding a lasting solution to the recurrent conflicts in eastern DRC.
The country is home to more than 40 armed groups, including the so-called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), largely composed of perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
There are also dozens of local ethnic based militias, including several Mai-Mai groups, and other insurgents fighting the governments of Uganda and Burundi, most of which are notorious for gross human rights violations.
The political leader of M23, Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, who was also in Kampala on Saturday but did not attend the regional summit, met President Kabila on Saturday in the Ugandan capital, but no details were provided from the meeting.
President Kabila's government had previously rejected calls for talks with M23 rebels, whom it claims are backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Both countries have also been implicated in a United Nations experts report, allegations Kigali and Kampala have strongly denied, and instead urged the international community to back ICGLR's peace process.
Yesterday, reports from Kinshasa indicated that the government would not hold further talks with the rebels unless they withdraw from Goma. The New Times could not get a comment from M23 by press time, but they have themselves urged peace talks, although it remains unclear whether they are ready to pull out of the city.
The ICGLR summit asked the rebels to withdraw from "current positions to the ground of tactical importance not less than 20km from Goma town within 2 days (from Saturday)."
The Kampala summit also resolved that a composite force comprising one company of a proposed neutral force, one company of Congolese army (FARDC) and one company of M23 be deployed at Goma airport, and also asked the UN Stabiliation Mission in Congo (Monusco) to "occupy and provide security in the neutral zone between Goma and the new areas occupied by M23".
This process, the summit decided, will be supervised by the Chiefs of Defence of Rwanda and DRC and led by the Chief of Defence of Uganda, with the participation of Chiefs of Defence Staff from the other ICGLR member states.
Tanzania has pledged to contribute to an African neutral force to help disarm the various armed groups in eastern DRC, while South Africa has offered to provide logistics to the envisaged forced.
Congo is home to a US$1.4 billion-a year UN force, Monusco, which is widely viewed as inefficient and generally indifferent, and has for the last ten years been dogged by allegations of gross violations, including rape and selling arms to rebel groups operating in the region.
The ICGLR maintains a group of 24 senior military officers under the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism in Goma that seeks to help restore confidence between DRC and its neighbours.