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The meeting comes against the backdrop of fears that M23 rebels who recently captured Goma and another strategic town of Sake, were determined to strike Bukavu before proceeding to Kinshasha to topple Kabila.
“The situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remains alarming,” said UN peacekeeping spokesperson Kieran Dwyer on Friday night.
“The M23 are now present in Sake, with reports indicating that they may be on the move toward Masisi territory, which is their stronghold.”
“The Mission is also positioning itself to try to prevent further advances of the M23,” said Mr. Dwyer. “However, MONUSCO cannot act in substitute to the Congolese army and national security forces in directly confronting the M23.”
While in Kampala, leaders will take radical steps to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.
During their last meeting in October, ICGLR leaders discussed implementation of the regionally driven mechanisms which in three months since the first summit held in Addis Ababa had seen notable advances, including the cessation of hostilities in Eastern DRC.
Opening the discussions, ICGLR Executive Secretary, Prof Ntumba Luaba said:
“I strongly encourage continued and sustained high level dialogue at the bilateral and regional level. I welcome the recent progress in strengthening confidence building measures, notably the Joint Verification Mechanism.”
However, peace was not realized, with M23 launching attacks.
Presidents Museveni, Kabila and Kagame early this week called upon the M23 rebels not to advance to Kinshasha.
At a joint press conference held at Commonwealth Resort, Munyonyo in Kampala on Wednesday, the Heads of State agreed the military option would not solve the crisis in Eastern Congo.
Kabila, who is facing a deadly rebellion in the East, said he was ready to hold “direct talks” with the rebels to solve what Presidents termed as their “legitimate grievances.”
“The talks will be based on the 2009 agreements,” said Kabila.
The CNDP (now M23) were integrated into the Congolese forces in 2009 following an earlier rebellion.
However, they broke ranks early this year, citing abuse of most terms of the agreement.
They cited discrimination, harassment, low salaries and massacre of 50 of their colleagues by DRC forces during deployment outside Kivu.
This is the first time that Kabila was openly accepting to sit on a round table with the rebels to iron out their grievances.
It’s understood that Kabila agreed to abandon the path of war after the rebels exhibited unprecedented preparedness and determination to topple his government.
President Museveni has been mediating talks between Kagame and Kabila for the past 24 hours in Kampala.
Museveni said M23 must immediately withdraw from Goma and respect a ceasefire despite the “legitimacy” of their demands.
Presidents agreed that a ceasefire will allow ICGLR Mechanism to intervene in finding a durable solution through a political and diplomatic process.
Museveni excited journalists when asked whether he thought M23 would easily handover the towns they have already captured and return to Bunagana.
“We shall tell them to go back, I assure you they will go back,” said Museveni.
He also scoffed at M23 threats of marching to Kinshasha, saying such a move was “totally unacceptable and these people will have to go back to where they came from.”
“We cannot expansion of this war,” said Museveni.
Heads of state further called on the international community to mobilize resources and provide diplomatic support to the ICGLR Regional Initiative on DRC.
President Kabila committed himself to ensuring the “legitimate demands” of M23 are addressed to enable a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Meanwhile, as 11 Heads of States from Africa’s Great Lakes Region gather in Kampala to discuss the peace process for DRC, ActionAid today calls for humanitarian agencies to be given access to communities affected by the violence.
Adelin Ntanonga, ActionAid’s Country Director for DRC said:
“The situation is worsening as the efforts of aid agencies are becoming severely disrupted. We are unable to deliver help and reach out to vulnerable people trapped by the conflict.
“We are witnessing an appalling humanitarian crisis that will deteriorate further if we continue to be denied access to the worst affected areas.”
The conflict is severely impacting poor and marginalised people, especially women, young girls and children. In Goma there is little food, clean water or shelter and no medical facilities or power.
As people leave their homes, the fighting has resulted in loss of property, destruction of public infrastructure and equipment, looting of livestock, increased violence against women and girls and human rights violations for both internally displaced people (IDPs) and host populations.
Mr Ntanonga continued: “We are calling on the international community to protect civilians’ rights and provide funding to help people to restore and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.”