DRC rivals poised for peace talks

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iol pic afr drc unrest -M23 REBELS REUTERS People gather around a tank abandoned by fleeing Congolese army in Ndosho near Goma.

Kampala -

Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels will meet for peace talks with government delegates on Thursday, officials said, as both sides prepared positions ahead of the discussions.

“We did not meet today as both sides were preparing for the negotiations,” M23 rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said.

“The government is preparing on its side and we are preparing on our side... We were preparing some documents for the negotiations.”

The talks, which opened in Kampala on Sunday, are the latest in several bids to end a long-running conflict that has forced hundreds of thousands of people in eastern DR Congo's North Kivu province from their homes.

Bisimwa said that the two sides would meet in the Ugandan capital on Thursday to hammer out details of the agenda.

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.

They are expected to present a raft of demands to the government, including a call for major political reform for the war-weary region.

The M23 crisis is expected to feature heavily in Congolese President Joseph Kabila's annual state of the nation address on Saturday, government spokesman Lambert Mende. - Sapa-AFP

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