Following hours of face-to-face talks, the presidents of Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda yesterday said the M23 rebels must withdraw from Goma, which fell to the fighters on Tuesday.
Moments after the joint communiqué was read, Congo’s Joseph Kabila, however, refused to say whether his government would consider talks with the rebels who have indicated that they are open to talks. “There is a regional plan by ICGLR (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region) on how to engage the M23,” Mr Kabila said.
The communiqué released during a 7pm press conference at Speke Resort Munyonyo said: “A plan to end this is being communicated to them. DRC has promised to expeditiously look into the causes of this contest and address them as best as it can.”
Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kuteesa read the communiqué which also said: “In solidarity with the Congolese people and their counterparts in the region, President Museveni and Kagame have made it clear that even if there were legitimate grievances by the mutineering group, they cannot accept the expansion of this war or entertain the overthrow of a legitimate government of DRC or undermine its authority”.
Assembled media, however, brought to the attention of the host president that reports were filtering in that the rebels were marching out of Goma and advancing towards Bukavu in South Kivu, even as the three leaders were putting up a show of unanimity over the crisis.
Unruffled, Museveni said: “No matter how far they have advanced we are going to ask them to withdraw. I can assure you they will go back.”
Like his Congolese counterpart, President Kagame was noncommittal in answers to questions about the border with DR Congo which was closed about three weeks ago. “This issue was discussed in the meeting and we are waiting for the final advice from ICGLR,” he said.
Mr Kagame also said: “Congolese problems must be solved by Congolese, and regional problems should be resolved by the regional initiatives.”
Meanwhile, at least 10 presidents from the Great Lakes region are expected in Kampala this Saturday to discuss the resumption of hostilities in eastern DR Congo.
Despite Presidents Museveni, Kagame and Kabila’s marathon meetings on Tuesday night and most of yesterday, ministers from ICGLR countries, who have separately been meeting in Kampala, resolved that presidents from the regional body must participate in the process.
The permanent secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs, James Mugume, yesterday said the summit was prompted by the fall of Goma. “It was decided yesterday that we have this meeting and the presidents will discuss the concept of deployment of an international neutral force and mediation between Kinshasa and the rebels,” he said.
The presidents on Saturday will discuss the logistics necessary for deployment of the neutral force. They are also expected to address themselves to UN Security Council approval of the deployment of the neutral force from Tanzania, Kenya, DR Congo and Angola.
The United States government also warned the in a statement. “We condemn the renewed military campaign by the M23 rebel group, which is an affront to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the DRC and in violation of international law. We call for a ceasefire, and for the M23 to return Goma to DRC authorities and pull back to their July positions,” the statement said.
US Department of State Spokesperson, Ms Victoria Nuland, called on Uganda and Rwanda to use their “influence on M23” to bring about an immediate end to hostilities.
Uganda and Rwanda have been accused by the UN group of experts of supporting M23 rebels, an allegation both countries have strongly denied.