A delegation of the M23 rebels has joined negotiations being held in the Ugandan capital Kampala to bring a halt to the interminable cycles of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. "We are here and tomorrow (Sunday) we will meet with the delegation of the government of Congo," Bertrand Bisimwa, a March 23 movement (M23) spokesman, said on Saturday in Kampala. The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009. Since early May, over 750,000 people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. Most of them have resettled inside Congo, but tens of thousands have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Meanwhile, meeting in Tanzania's largest city Dar es Salaam, Southern African leaders agreed on Saturday to provide 4,000 troops for a neutral force to be deployed in eastern Congo. In addition, the South African Development Community (SADC) called on the United Nations to expand the mandate of the UN peacekeepers, who abandoned Goma last month and the Rwanda-backed M23 rebels seized the city on November 20.
The M23 rebels pledged to withdraw to 20 kilometers outside Goma under a deal brokered by the leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). And on December 1, the M23 rebels withdrew from Goma."This summit strongly condemned the M23 and all its attacks on the civilian population... as well as its abuses of human rights," said SADC Secretary General Tomaz Salomao at the end of the summit. Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on for over a decade and left over 5.5 million people dead. GJH/AS