Kenya mediates Congo peace talks, but breakthrough elusive

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Some Congolese armed groups in peace talks in Kenya asked for more time before laying down their weapons, Kenyan authorities said Thursday, signaling the talks had not yet made a breakthrough.

“A few” of more than 30 armed groups with representatives at the talks “requested to be given more time to appraise themselves with the set conditions but expressed willingness to join hands in building their country,” a statement from Kenya’s presidency said.

Many other groups at the talks accepted efforts by Congo’s government to demobilize former rebels and integrate them into the national army, it said.

The statement gave no details on which groups had not committed to the peace process, which Kenya is trying to mediate under the banner of the seven-nation East African Community trade bloc. It cited Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi urging the rebels to accept demobilization and integration into the national force as part of efforts to build a strong army.

Even as talks proceeded in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, fighting erupted in eastern Congo near the Uganda border as government troops battled the M23 rebel group.

Fleeing gunfire, hundreds of Congolese civilians regularly seek shelter in Uganda.

Representatives of M23 attended some meetings during ongoing talks in Kenya. It was not immediately possible to get a comment from the group.

M23 launched its rebellion in April 2012 as a group of ethnic Tutsi fighters battling Congo’s government. Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government has been accused by U.N. experts and others of backing the M23 and using it as a proxy force to secure access to eastern Congo’s lucrative mining trade — an allegation Rwandan authorities strongly deny.

Previous efforts to negotiate with M23 leaders have produced mixed results, with some members picking up arms again.

Congo recently became a member of the East African Community, joining neighbors such as Rwanda and Uganda.

East African leaders said last week that they would proceed with a plan to urgently deploy a regional force in Congo. That force would be equipped to “contain and, where necessary, fight the negative forces” in Congo, they said in a statement at the end of a summit.

Despite its vast size and wealth of natural resources, Congo remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Eastern Congo is particularly plagued by rebel violence as several armed groups vie for control of its mineral-rich lands.

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