UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined hands with the leaders of Rwanda and Congo at a high-level meeting aimed at ending the crisis in eastern Congo but the attempt at unity was short-lived. The two presidents remained deeply at odds over responsibility for the escalating violence.
Congo's mineral-rich east is facing the worst upsurge in fighting in years. The conflict is a spillover from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Hundreds who participated in the mass slaughter escaped into Congo and still fight there.
At the heart of the current unrest is a new rebel group known as M23 which is an incarnation of a group of Congolese Tutsi set up to fight Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo. It launched a rebellion in April when a group of senior commanders defected from the Congolese army and is now consolidating its power in the east, at the border with Rwanda and Uganda.
A U.N. report in July accused high-ranking Rwandan officials of helping to create, arm and support the M23 rebels, a view strongly backed by Congo's government. Rwanda denies any involvement and blames Congo for the upsurge in violence.
At Thursday's closed-door meeting chaired by the secretary-general, diplomats said Congo's President Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's President Paul Kagame stuck to those positions.
Ban told participants, including key African nations and the five permanent Security Council members, that M23 members "are raping, murdering and pillaging local populations as part of a campaign of terror."
"The numbers are alarming," he said. "Over 260,000 people have fled the violence since the mutiny began, and an additional 60,000 have fled over the borders into Rwanda and Uganda."
The secretary-general expressed serious concern at reports of external support for M23 and called on "all those responsible to end this destabilizing assistance."
During the meeting, Kabila insisted his country was a victim of foreign interference, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
Last month, his foreign minister called on the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on the Rwandans named in the U.N. report. Raymond Tshibanda N'tunga Mulongo said his government also wants the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo to "neutralize" the M23 and protect the tense and porous border with Rwanda.
Kagame's office said in a statement issued after the meeting that Rwanda rejects allegations of involvement in the current mutiny.
The Rwandan leader stressed at the meeting that solving the crisis will be impossible if the international community continues "to define the issue erroneously," the statement said.
Kagame also told the meeting that a durable solution will only come from addressing the real issues of governance in Congo and dealing with the grievances of its citizens, the statement said.
A summary of the meeting issued by the secretary-general said participants, including key African nations and the five permanent Security Council members, "strongly condemned the M23 and other negative forces" operating in eastern Congo and called for an immediate to all violence, including sexual violence and the recruitment of children.
Without naming Rwanda, but clearly referring to it, the summary said "most participants strongly condemned all forms of external support to the M23 and other negative forces in the DRC, and demanded the immediate and permanent cessation of such support."