Kagame absent as leaders warn M23
Kampala. President Jakaya Kikwete and other regional leaders called on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebel group M23 yesterday to end hostilities and leave a key eastern town they seized in a rampant advance that has sparked fears of a wider conflict.
The meeting of east African heads of state went forward without a key player – Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose country the United Nations accuses of backing the rebels – and wrapped up after less than an hour.
DRC leader Joseph Kabila also attended the summit that brought together presidents Kikwete, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.
In their closing statement, the leaders called on the rebels to “stop all war activities” and “stop talk of overthrowing an elected government”.
Mr Kagame, whose country denies backing the M23, had been expected to attend the meeting in the Ugandan capital.
No reason was given for the absence of the Rwandan leader. Mr Kagame had been expected to attend the summit, but a Ugandan foreign ministry official said shortly before the meeting started that he was not coming and would instead be represented by the Rwandan Foreign minister, Ms Louise Mushikiwabo.
Mr Kagame was due to hold talks with his counterpart from the Congo Republic, Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso, in Kigali later yesterday.
The international community has been alarmed by the swift advance of M23 rebels in the DRC’s mineral-rich but underdeveloped eastern Kivu region. It was the advance, which has already displaced tens of thousands of civilians, and the rebels’ threat to march on Kinshasa that prompted the convening of yesterday’s summit.
“A mechanism or plan is being worked out to get them to withdraw,” Ugandan Foreign minister Sam Kutesa told journalists ahead of the meeting.
M23’s political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, was expected to hold separate talks with President Museveni later yesterday.“There has not been a meeting yet. We are still waiting,” said Rene Abandi, head of external relations for M23’s political wing.
The rebels captured Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, on Tuesday after less than a week of fighting before taking the key town of Sake 20 kilometres (12 miles) to the west the next day.Reports yesterday said the situation was calm but tense in both towns.
Mr Kabila had met with the leaders of Rwanda and Uganda immediately following the fall of Goma and the three leaders issued a joint statement urging the rebels to pull out of the city.
The M23 has refused to withdraw unless Mr Kabila agrees to direct peace talks with the group.
The UN has also accused Uganda of backing the M23 rebels, charges that Uganda denies.
Additional reporting by AFP