KAMPALA (AFP) – Presidents from Africa’s Great Lakes region gathered Thursday in Uganda for a fresh bid to broker a deal to end fighting in resource-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Meetings between DR Congo leader Joseph Kabila and his rival Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame — who rejects accusations of backing rebel forces in Congo — delayed the opening of full talks, Ugandan foreign ministry spokesman Elly Kamahungye told AFP.
The meeting of the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) — the seventh such summit held to try to find a lasting solution — comes amid a recent upsurge in violence.
Congolese troops, backed by a special United Nations force, launched a fresh assault against the M23 movement of army mutineers in the turbulent North Kivu province late last month.
Conflict in the fertile and valuable mining region has in the past dragged regional powers into the fighting, with both Rwanda and Uganda accused of backing the M23, claims they flatly deny.
Rwanda’s Kagame also met separately with Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete, following months of tense relations between their two nations.
Tanzanian troops are a key part of a newly deployed UN military intervention force specially mandated to take the offensive against rebel units.
UN special envoy Mary Robinson and African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are also at the talks, held at a luxury lakeside resort outside Kampala.
Robinson, the former president of Ireland, on Monday toured conflict zones in eastern Congo, where she demanded that M23 fighters “must cease violence, must disarm as the UN Security Council demanded.”
The M23 was launched by Tutsi soldiers who mutinied from Congo’s army in April 2012 and turned their guns on their former comrades.
Last week the rebels moved back from positions around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, which they seized for 12 days last November before pulling out under international pressure.
It is not clear if M23 rebels will also be present on the sidelines, although delegation head Rene Abandi is in the city, saying on Wednesday he was yet to receive an invitation.
Talks between the M23 and Kinshasa began last year but broke down in May, and despite promises they would resume, have made little headway.