Rebels from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 movement have said they will resume peace talks with the government, agreeing to a demand from leaders of Africa’s Great Lakes region.
Talks between the two sides were suspended in May, and the agreement to reopen them follows a recent upsurge in violence in the country, where Congolese troops backed by a special United Nations force launched a fresh assault against the rebels late last month.
“Our delegates are already in Kampala. They are ready to negotiate with Kinshasa immediately as soon as the request has been passed on by the mediator,” M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa told AFP news agency over telephone.
The rebel leader said he hoped the talks would address the “deep-seated causes of the conflict” and that Kinshasa would “really get involved”.
The Congolese government cautiously welcomed the M23’s announcement.
“We had the impression that some wanted to drag things out,” spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP, adding that Kinshasa had “never left the table”.
The M23 rebels last week declared a unilateral cease-fire following a week of heavy fighting with the Congolese troops in country’s east, saying they wanted to “give peace a chance.”
On Thursday, regional leaders meeting in the Ugandan capita, Kampala, issued a statement demanding the resumption of talks between the two sides within three days, to be concluded within 14 days.
“So as to enable the talks to be rapidly concluded… M23 should put an end to all military activities, and to stop war and threats of overthrowing the lawful government of DRC,” it said.
The summit marked a rare opportunity for Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame to hold face-to-face meetings at a time when their countries are on edge over Rwanda’s alleged military involvement in eastern Congo.
In August, Congolese troops backed by UN forces battled M23 rebels near the eastern city of Goma, home to nearly 1 million people along the Rwandan border.
Rwanda accused the Congolese military of firing missiles across the border and warned that “this provocation can no longer be tolerated”.
The rebel movement was launched by Tutsi soldiers who mutinied from Congo’s army in April last year and turned their guns on their former comrades.
Last week the rebels moved back from positions around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, which they seized for 12 days last November before pulling out under international pressure.
The meeting of the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) is the seventh such summit held to try to find a lasting solution.
UN special envoy Mary Robinson and African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma were also at the talks, at a luxury lakeside resort outside Kampala.
Robinson, the former president of Ireland, on Monday toured conflict zones in eastern Congo, where she demanded that M23 fighters “must cease violence, must disarm as the UN Security Council demanded”.
She is expected to travel on to the Rwandan capital Kigali on Friday.