The UN secretary general has called on the Congolese rebels to lay down their weapons and withdraw from Goma, a strategic city in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo that the M23 rebels captured on November 20. Ban Ki-moon said in a statement on Sunday that he hailed a joint declaration by the presidents of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, who made the same demand at a summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Saturday. "The secretary general calls on the M23 to immediately lay down their arms in accordance with the agreements reached in Kampala, and comply with the immediate withdrawal of their forces from Goma," said a statement from Ban. "The secretary general encourages the parties to build on the dialogue among the leaders of the Great Lakes region to address the fundamental causes of conflict," it added. Meeting in Kampala, the leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) called on the M23 rebels to abandon their threat to overthrow the elected government in Kinshasa and to "stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma." The Rwanda-backed M23 seized Goma after United Nations peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city of one million people, which is the capital of North Kivu province.
Kinshasa and UN experts say that Rwanda is supplying, supporting, and directing the M23 rebellion in the eastern Congo.Rwanda has repeatedly denied the charges that it is backing the M23, but Kigali has never publicly condemned the militia, which is strengthening its grip over the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu in the eastern Congo and could seriously threaten the writ of the Congolese government in the region, according to UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous. GJH/AS