DR Congo rebels set conditions for Goma exit

M23 political leader demands the release of political prisoners after the group agrees to leave eastern city.

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo – M23 rebels will not withdraw from Goma unless the Congolese government meet a series of demands, the group’s president has said.

Addressing journalists in a hotel close to the border with Rwanda on Tuesday, Jean Marie Runiga, M23’s president, said that the group was not against withdrawing from the city, but would only do so if certain conditions were met.

The announcement came shortly after Ugandan officials announced the imminent withdrawal of M23 from Goma and Sake.

M23 leaders deny confusion over Goma withdrawal  

Ugandan General Aronda Nyakairima said the rebel group was scheduled to start withdrawing from Goma by midday on Thursday, and to leave the city completely within 24 hours.

In response, Runiga reiterated that this would happen only through negotiations.

“The retreat of Goma is not a problem because it is not our priority. Our priority is the well being of the Congolese people,” said Runiga, an ordained bishop. 

General Makenga Sultani, the military head of M23, met for talks with the Ugandan military on Monday, in a bid to resolve the crisis, a week after the rebel group had taken the city of Goma in the east of the country.

But Runiga, the group’s political leader, denied there was any confusion over the group’s movements.

“There is no contradiction between me and General Makenga,” Runiga said.

‘Kinshasa needs to listen’

“In that resolution, M23 must withdraw 20km from Goma, but according to those discussions, Kinshasa had to listen to the conditions of M23 and respond to us.

“We are saying that there is nothing wrong with that resolution to withdraw from Goma, but we are [also] saying that Kinshasa needs to listen to our conditions,” he said.

Rebel soldiers guarded the M23 press conference
[Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Runiga, sitting between his executive secretary Francis Rucogoza, and his political spokesman, Bertrand Bisimwa, and flanked by two M23 soldiers, said negotiations must include the opposition and “a withdrawal must be the result of negotiation and not a condition” of talks.

He also sent a message to the international community, saying that pressuring their group to withdraw needed to come alongside similar pressure on President Joseph Kabila to listen to the group’s grievances.

Other conditions included releasing political prisoners and releasing UDPS leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, who has been under house arrest in Kinshasa since late 2011.

Runiga said Kabila must also drive out foreign armed groups such as the FDLR, made up of Hutu extremists who took part in the Rwandan genocide, from Congolese territory.

According to the UNHCR, more than 285,000 people have been displaced since the group made advances between July and September 2012.

The M23 was created in April 2012 by former rebels, mostly ethnic Tutsis, who joined the Congolese army and later defected over claims of unfair treatment within the state military.

Source: Al Jazeera