Kampala — The M23 rebels returned to the negotiating table on Tuesday as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government accused them of committing human rights violations against people they purport to defend.
This was revealed when the DRC government delegation side was granted an opportunity to respond to the accusations the rebels made against President Joseph Kabila at the start of the talks.
The government delegation had given a pre-condition that in order for the talks to continue, the foreign affairs minister, Raymond Tshibanda, had to respond to allegations made by the rebels. But on Monday, the rebels' delegation refused to turn up for the talks.
"We are now ready to advance," rebel delegation chief Francois Rucogoza told journalists, adding: "It is for the Ugandan minister of defence (Dr. Crispus Kiyonga) as mediator to decide when we will move to substantive talks."
In what appeared as finger-pointing in front of the media, Tshibanda addressed the rebels in the presence of journalists.
"We have documented evidence. It is surprising to see that these few people heading M23 are relatively young and have committed crimes against people they pretend to be liberating. I hear M23 pleading for human rights," Tshibanda said.
"But the civil society in North Kivu has noted that M23 have murdered people since July 2012. M23 is responsible for executions, rape and forced recruitment. More than 800,000 people in Kivu, most of whom are children, are suffering because of M23's actions."
Tshibanda, in his statement, defended President Kabila, saying he has never stopped seeking a solution to end the Congo conflict and human rights abuse. He added that Kabila had accepted to talk to the rebels and grant them amnesty.
Tshibanda also refuted claims by the rebels that the Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese nationals have been victims of xenophobic attacks in Congo.
"Claims being made of xenophobia are meant to divide the Congolese. Our brothers, who are members of this community, are actively present in government and at all levels. We don't like situations where division becomes part of our day-to-day life. We want to work towards working for national cohesion," Tshibanda said.
He said a process in underway to begin the repatriation of Congolese nationals who sought asylum in neighbouring countries, fleeing violence in Congo.