Tuesday, January 16, 2018

M23 rebels ignore deadline to give up control of Goma, Congo

GOMA, Congo — Rebels who seized the eastern city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo ignored a deadline set by regional leaders to leave and instead spelled out a long list of demands Tuesday.

Officials immediately rejected the conditions set by the M23 rebels, which included the release of political prisoners. The Congolese army threatened military action to take back Goma.

"They have refused to leave the city of Goma. This is a declaration of war and we intend to resume combat," military spokesman Olivier Hamuli was reported as saying.

Army troops were hunkered down in the town of Minova, 36 miles from Goma.

The impasse came after days of intense diplomatic efforts and raised fears the region could slide into another long war. The presidents of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania had urged the rebels to withdraw from Goma, which they took last week without a fight from government forces.

Earlier Tuesday, Ugandan officials announced that M23 rebels were ready to give up Goma, according to news agencies.

But the rebel group's political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga, said at a news conference in Goma that the rebels wouldn't give up the city unless Congolese President Joseph Kabila agreed to conditions covering issues that went well beyond the group's original grievances regarding what it considers Kabila's failure to live up to a 2009 peace deal. Runiga said finding solutions to the many problems in the country would require national talks.

"We want the involvement of the political opposition, civil society and the diaspora so we can tackle these issues together, so that the people hear the truth and that once and for all we find a solution to the problems that have poisoned our society and politics," he said. "We are fighting to find solutions to Congo's problems."

Government spokesman Laurent Mende was reported describing M23's actions as a farce.

"If each day they're going to come back with new demands, it becomes ridiculous," Mende said.

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