DRC M23 rebels demand ceasefire

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iol pic afr goma_m23 rebels AFP This file photo taken on December 1, 2012 shows M23 rebels sitting in the back of a truck as they wait to withdraw from the city of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels on Wednesday demanded Kinshasa sign a formal ceasefire, accusing officials of dragging out peace talks to bolster the army's position on the ground.

“The government is refusing to sign a ceasefire,” said the rebels' political chief Jean-Marie Runiga told AFP.

“Without first signing a ceasefire agreement it is difficult to continue with the negotiations,” he added, referring to talks which opened in the Ugandan capital earlier this month.

The talks are the latest in several bids to end a long-running conflict that has forced more than 900 000 people in war-torn eastern DR Congo from their homes.

The M23 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 raised fears of a wider war and a major humanitarian crisis.

M23 fighters, largely from the ethnic Tutsi community, pulled out of Goma 12 days later, but still control large parts of the chronically volatile but mineral-rich east.

On Tuesday, government spokesman Lambert Mende accused the rebels of not fully withdrawing the 20 kilometres they had agreed to.

But Runiga in turn accused the government of stalling talks to allow it and militia forces - such as the extremist Hutu FDLR rebels, who the rebels accuse of being in collaboration with the army - to strengthen its positions.

“The government is not really committed to finding a solution through negotiations but is trying to gain more time to reinforce its position on the ground and its alliances with groups like the FDLR,” he said.

The ceasefire heads a raft of demands the rebels have made to the government, including a call for major political reform for the war-weary region. - AFP


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