Regional Leaders Tell DR Congo Rebels to 'Stop War'

Regional leaders called on DR Congo rebel group M23 Saturday 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.

In their closing statement, the leaders called on the rebels to "stop all war activities" and "stop talk of overthrowing an elected government".

Kagame, whose country denies backing the M23, had been expected to attend the meeting in the Ugandan capital.

But a Ugandan foreign ministry official told AFP shortly before the summit that the president was not coming and would instead be represented by his foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo. No reason was provided for the absence.

A Ugandan official had earlier said that both Kagame and DR Congo President Joseph Kabila would attend, and that without them the summit would be "meaningless".

The international community has voiced alarm over the lightning advance by the M23 in DR Congo's mineral-rich but underdeveloped eastern Kivu region, where the insurgents seized the regional capital of Goma and another key town nearby in less than a week.

The advance has displaced tens of thousands of civilians, sparked warnings of a humanitarian disaster, and raised fears that a wider conflict could again erupt in the area, the cradle of back-to-back wars that shook DR Congo from 1996 to 2002.

DR Congo leader Kabila flew in for Saturday's summit in Kampala, which also included the presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

An M23 delegation was also in Kampala, but not at the summit, which is officially reserved for the nations of the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes Regions.

M23's political leader Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero expects to hold separate talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni later in the day.

"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 kilometers (12 miles) to the west the next day.

Reports on Saturday said the situation was calm but tense in both towns.

DR Congo's 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 Kabila agrees to direct peace talks with the group.

The United Nations has also accused Uganda of backing the M23 rebels, charges that it, like Rwanda, denies.

Rwanda's president Kagame was due to hold talks with his counterpart from the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, later Saturday, according to sources in both capitals.

Members of Sassou's delegation had already arrived Friday in the Rwandan capital.

In DR Congo's capital Kinshasa, the interior ministry temporarily banned peace protests Saturday, blocking students from holding a planned rally.

"The interior ministry said demonstrations were banned to give diplomacy a chance," student leader Dieumerci Bebeto told AFP.

An interior ministry source confirmed the ban on condition of anonymity.

"Not all demonstrations are banned. There are certain demonstrations that are liable to lead to destruction and violence, and those are temporarily suspended," the source said.

The move came after several thousand women, including Justice Minister Wivine Mumba Matipa and several lawmakers, marched Friday against the violence.

Protesters have staged demonstrations in several DR Congo cities since the rebels seized Goma, sometimes turning violent and throwing stones. Three people died at a protest in Kisangani, the capital of the eastern province of Orientale, according to U.N.-sponsored broadcaster Radio Okapi.

The U.N. has come in for criticism at the rallies, where protesters have accused its peacekeepers of not doing enough to stop the rebels.

The M23 was launched by former fighters in an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the military under a 2009 peace deal whose terms the mutineers say were never fully implemented.

The two DR Congo wars of 1996-2002 both started in the volatile Kivu region in the east of the country.

Source: Associated Press

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