M23 rebel group demands president Kabila’s resignation

BUNAGANA, — The rebel group starting negotiations with the Congolese government wants the country’s president to resign, according to a rebel document.

Jean-Marie Runiga, president of the M23 rebels said to be backed by Rwanda, on Thursday showed The Associated Press a list of demands that he said will be presented to the Congolese government.

The rebels’ demand for Congolese President Joseph Kabila to step down comes as a leading advocacy group says the president is “unable to effectively govern the country.”

The M23 recently withdrew from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in eastern Congo, in order to begin negotiations with Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s government.

But the Congolese government and the rebels have so far disagreed on how the negotiations should be conducted, who they should include and what issues should be discussed.

On Monday, the M23 delegation refused to attend the preliminary meetings in Uganda after the government representative objected to their opening speech, saying it was “insulting.”

The rebels came back to the table Tuesday, but observers are skeptical that the talks will lead to concrete results and resolve the conflict. The delays have already increased tensions, threatening to restart the fighting.

Speaking from eastern Congo territory that the rebels control, Jean-Marie Runiga, the president of the M23, said if given the opportunity, the rebels could retake the city of Goma in eastern Congo.

“The information that I have is that Kinshasa is reinforcing its positions. It is bringing troops, weapons and ammunition. If we are attacked, we grant ourselves the right to defend ourselves and go very far. And this time we will not retreat,” Runiga told the Associated Press from his living room in the border town of Bunagana.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the M23 rebels have called for the Kabila government to fully implement the 2009 peace agreement. As the rebels gained ground in eastern Congo, including the seizure last month of the provincial capital Goma, their demands have increased to encompass a wide range of issues in Congo including governance, the economy and social matters.

The full list of M23’s demands, seen by AP, includes the resignation Kabila and the dissolution of the national assembly. The rebels call for the creation of a transitional government that would run the country while new elections are organized, starting with local elections.

The president of M23 says the rebels’ political branch should resume its control of the city of the Goma as a precondition to the negotiations. He and Gen. Sultani Makenga, the M23 troops commander, are staying in eastern Congo until the negotiations deal with substantial issues.

“I think our members who are in Kampala represent us. In due time I will be there, too. I am waiting for things to be organized and when Kabila will be there, I will go, too,” Runiga said.

The rebels’ demands come as Congo’s president faces growing criticism for his handling of the crisis in the country’s east.
On Thursday, the Enough Project expressed concerns about Kabila’s leadership and said the current talks between the president and M23 were not inclusive enough to address wider, underlying issues in eastern Congo.

“President Kabila has now lost nearly all confidence among the Congolese people and is unable to effectively govern the country,” the group said in a policy brief.

“In order to restore political order, a national dialogue process must take place, in which leaders from across the country actively participate and decide on a national consensus to move the country forward,” said the Enough Project report. “If he does not successfully build out such a process, Kabila may not survive politically.”