Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo announced they would withdraw from the eastern city of Goma only if President Joseph Kabila agreed to their demands. Congo's government quickly dismissed this as a “farce.”
"The withdrawal, yes. If Kabila agrees to our demands then we'll go quickly," Jean-Marie Runiga, political chief of M23, told reporters Tuesday in a hotel in Goma, flanked by senior M23 officials in civilian clothes and rebels in military fatigues.
Lambert Mende, Congo's government spokesman, quickly dismissed M23's demands. "It's a farce, that's the word. There's been a document adopted by the region. If each day they're going to come back with new demands it becomes ridiculous. We're no longer in the realm of seriousness," Mende told Reuters from Kinshasa.
The M23 rebels, who UN experts say are backed by Rwanda, claim they want to "liberate" all of Congo. The rebels captured the border city of Goma last week after Congolese soldiers withdrew and UN peacekeepers gave up defending the city.
The Ugandan military, which has been coordinating talks with M23, said earlier on Tuesday that M23 leader Colonel Sultani Makenga had agreed to withdraw from Goma with no conditions.
But Runiga (pictured above) told reporters in Goma his forces would withdraw only if Kabila held national talks, released political prisoners and dissolved the electoral commission, a body accused by Western powers of delivering Kabila a second term in corrupt 2011 polls.
Runiga said Kabila's government was rotten with corruption, lamented the country's dilapidated roads, and said Congo's only schools and hospitals had been left by Belgian former colonial rulers. He said any talks would have to tackle such issues.
"We are fighting to find solutions to Congo's problems. Withdrawal from Goma is not a precondition to negotiations but a result of them," he said.
The insurgency has displaced 140,000 civilians according to the United Nations.
hc/dr (Reuters, dpa)