Chiefs of Defence Staff of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, yesterday, met in the eastern Congolese city of Goma, two days after the withdrawal of the M23 rebels from the strategic lakeside city.
The meeting was aimed at assessing the progress of the implementation of the resolutions of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region Heads of State and Government Summit of November 24, according to Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Muhesi, the commander of the Goma-based Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism, composed of all the ICGLR member states.
"The Defence Chiefs received reports from the Expanded JVM and MONUSCO (UN peacekeepers) on the withdrawal of M23 as well as the re-insertion of DRC National Police and FARDC (in Goma)," Gen Muhesi told The New Times last evening.
He added, "We briefed them about the progress in respect of the implementation of the Heads of State resolutions. The M23 have done what was required of them, and that is a good thing."
Gen. Muhesi leads a team of 24 senior military officers drawn from 11 ICGLR member countries (South Sudan was admitted only over a week ago as the 12th member), working under what is known as Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism, designed to help provide technical input in the ongoing efforts to help end the conflict.
The M23 rebellion began in April after hundreds of soldiers from a previous rebellion - the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) -mutinied accusing the government of breaking the terms of the March 23, 2009 peace deal under which they had been integrated in the army.
They have since called for peace talks that include the terms of that peace agreement, brokered by former African Heads of State Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania.
The Kampala regional Heads of State summit also urged President Joseph Kabila's government to "to listen, evaluate and resolve the legitimate grievances of M23, including taking into account the report of the work already done by the ICGLR."
Yesterday, the Goma meeting was chaired by Uganda's Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, who, along with his Congolese and Rwandan counterparts, Lt. Gen. Didier Etumba and Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga, respectively, were tasked by the ICGLR Heads of State to oversee the M23 withdrawal from Sake and Goma.
Asked about the way forward now that the rebels have pulled back 20km as demanded by the ICGLR leaders, Gen. Muhesi said the next step was "negotiations as agreed".
"Kinshasa has responded positively and negotiations could begin on Wednesday," he said.
He added that the M23 rebels were also preparing to send one company to Goma to be part of a proposed composite force, which also includes one company-Neutral Force and one company of the Congolese forces, to be deployed at the city's airport.
Yesterday, Muhesi said, 600 FARDC troops arrived in Goma, a city the army dramatically deserted nearly two weeks ago as it fell to the M23 rebels. Hundreds of Congolese police personnel are already in Goma.
Goma airport is expected to resume functioning soon with the deployment of Neutral Observers from Tanzania.
The three Defence Chiefs are expected to transmit their report to the Heads of State Summit through the Chair of the ICGLR Ministers of Defence.