DR Congo rebels, government to start talks Friday

DRC policemen walk alongside the runway at the airport in Goma during a visit by the interior minister on Dec 4/AFP

KAMPALA, Dec 6 – Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo will start talks with Kinshasa’s government in Kampala on Friday, to “resolve the conflict” in the volatile and mineral-rich east, a Ugandan official said.

“Delegations from the DRC government and M23 (rebels) shall begin preliminary meetings tomorrow,” Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot told reporters on Thursday.

The rebels’ lightning capture of the mining hub of Goma on November 20, eight months after the army mutineers launched an uprising against the government, had sparked fears of a wider war and a major humanitarian crisis.

The rebels, largely from the ethnic Tutsi community, pulled out of Goma at the weekend. They are expected to have a raft of potential demands, including major political reform for the war-weary region.

Initial meetings will work focus on fixing the “ground rules and working framework” for the subsequent main body of talks, with negotiations on which observers would attend those talks, Opolot added.

Kinshasa’s delegation is already in Kampala, headed by Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda as well as members of the national assembly and senate.

M23’s political leader Jean-Marie Runiga said his guerrillas were due to leave for Kampala later on Thursday.

Also on Friday, regional southern African leaders and officials will hold a summit in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam on the crisis in DR Congo.

South African President Jacob Zuma will attend alongside representatives from the 15-nation member Southern African Development Community (SADC), a bloc that includes DR Congo, diplomats said.

The bloc – which also includes countries such as Angola and Zimbabwe, countries previously involved in the 1996-2003 Congolese civil wars – does not include either Rwanda or Uganda, nations accused of backing the M23 rebels.

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