Kampala - The presidents of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are meeting in Uganda on Wednesday for emergency talks to stem growing tensions between the leaders and their nations, as a rebellion believed to be backed by Rwanda has taken over DRC’s eastern provincial capital and its airport.
A top Ugandan diplomat with knowledge of the talks said on Wednesday Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Joseph Kabila met on Tuesday night in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. He said Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni will mediate Wednesday talks.
The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the meetings, said Kabila may be compelled to enter into direct negotiations with M23 rebels, who took control on Tuesday of the strategic, eastern provincial capital of Goma and its airport. The Congolese government has said it would not negotiate with the rebels.
"We take it as an emergency meeting," the diplomat said of the talks. "President Kabila is the one who sought the meeting with president Kagame. Museveni had been pressing them to talk. We believe that this is the last chance to solve this thing. The time has come for Congo [DRC] either to talk or fight [the rebels]. You can't do both."
Rebels on Tuesday also pushed toward Bukavu, another provincial capital which lies to the south of Goma. As explosions rang out in the lakeside city of Goma, civilians ran down sidewalks looking for cover. Thousands of residents fled across the border to Rwanda, the much-smaller nation to the east.
By early afternoon the gunfire had stopped and M23 soldiers marched down the potholed main boulevards, unimpeded. Their senior commanders, who the United Nations has accused of grave crimes including recruiting child soldiers, summary executions and rape, paraded around the town in all-terrain vehicles, waving to the thousands of people who left their barricaded houses to see them.
The United Nations peacekeepers, known by their acronym Monusco, were not helping the government forces during Tuesday's battle because they do not have a mandate to engage the rebels, said Congolese military spokesperson Olivier Hamuli, who expressed frustration over the lack of action by the peacekeepers.