10 December 2012

Uganda: Tense Start of Congo Dialogue in Kampala

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN

Kampala — The peace talks between the DR Congo government and the M23 rebels began acrimoniously on Sunday, with the government side accusing the rebels of using the media's presence to accuse the Kinshasa government.

The Congolese foreign affairs minister Raymond Tshibanda, took exception with the rebel team leader, François Ruchogoza's litany of accusations against the government of President Joseph Kabila.

This standoff threatened to derail the preliminary talks, which are facilitated under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), with Uganda holding the current rotational membership.

The talks follow the declaration on November 24 by the Heads of State and Government of the ICGLR on the security situation in eastern DRC.

The talks are organised in a bid to end fighting in the eastern Congo province of North Kivu.

The hostility between the two sides began soon after the chief facilitator, defence minister Dr. Crispus Kiyonga, had remarked that the dialogue gives hope to Congolese, and is a great opportunity to find a sustainable political solution to the conflict.

"I believe that the two delegations will dedicate themselves in the interest of the people in order to reach an agreement as soon as possible," added Kiyonga.

He urged the two sides to use the opportunity to end the conflict, which has caused suffering of the population and is affecting development in Congo and the Great Lakes region.

In his opening remarks, minister Tshibanda said: "We come with determination to contribute to solving the crisis, which has disturbed north Kivu for about eight months now and provide the basis for a better future for this province. There is nothing to this dialogue other than a single outcome, which is to end the rebellion, peace building and a return to normalcy in North Kivu."

However, when it came to the turn for M23 rebel side to speak, Ruchogoza said the current situation in east DRC is because the Congolese central government has ignored the problems facing the region as well as a lack of visionary leadership.

He also said the region is a sanctuary of elements of FNL, FDLR and ADF-NALU, which are a threat to stability in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

However, the Congolese government is not bothered about these foreign groups. Ruchogoza also said Congo has some of the world's worst indicators in health, education and governance.

"M23 is a consequence of all these claims. Social exclusion by government against the people of eastern DRC has achieved this."

But Tshibanda retorted: "Any exercise of this nature has rules. We were requested to make opening statements, but M23 took advantage of this chance to use the media and intoxicate national and international opinion. We cannot construct ourselves on the basis of misunderstanding."

"Before we continue our deliberations, the delegation of DRC would like to make a statement so that we can defend the truth regarding M23. I don't think it is acceptable that people who only have Kalashnikovs as a mode of legitimacy come here and attack people who were elected by Congolese," Tshibanda said.

The M23 rebellion began in April this year when nearly 300 soldiers, most of them former members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People, turned against the Congolese government.

The rebels cited poor conditions in the army and the government's unwillingness to implement the 23 March 2009 peace accord.

The M23 delegation includes Abandi Munyarugerero Rene and John Serge Kambasu, the principal negotiator.

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