Congo's M23 rebels say peace talks in trouble


KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The Congolese rebel movement M23 has suspended peace talks with Congo's government, a rebel spokesman said Wednesday, increasing fears of renewed violence in the country's troubled east.

The rebels say it is meaningless to negotiate peace when the United Nations is about to deploy a brigade authorized to attack them in eastern Congo, said Rene Abandi, leader of the M23 delegation that was meeting with the Congolese government in neighboring Uganda.

"For us, as M23, there is a break from the talks," said Abandi, speaking by phone from Bunagana, an M23 stronghold in eastern Congo. "We will hope that the government (of Congo) will understand later that war can't solve the conflict in eastern Congo."

M23, the most prominent rebel group operating in eastern Congo, is made up of hundreds of soldiers who deserted the Congolese army last year, accusing the Kinshasa government of failing to honor the terms of a peace deal signed on March 23, 2009. Since December representatives of the rebels and the Congo government have been meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, for on-off peace talks mediated by Uganda under the banner of a regional bloc.

The rebels, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, last November seized the provincial capital of Goma as U.N. peacekeepers stood by. That event prompted the international community to act toward the creation of a unit of peacekeepers with an enhanced mandate. The U.N. Security Council recently renewed the mandate of MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, for one year but also authorized the creation of a special unit expected to be deployed before July.

Following the U.N. resolution, the Congolese government asked the rebels to dismantle their movement or risk being the target of the U.N. brigade.

M23 now says the deployment of such a force could mean a return to full-blown war.

"They are coming with an offensive mandate. That's not good," Abandi said.

Tanzania and South Africa, two African countries that will contribute to the planned new brigade, have received threats from M23, which insists its fighters will defend themselves against any attacks.