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Congolese militants reject calls to pull back

GOMA — Rebels in eastern Congo rejected calls from African leaders to withdraw from the city of Goma and threatened today to press on with their advance until President Joseph Kabila opens direct peace talks.

The M23 rebels, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, have said they will “liberate” all of the vast, resource-rich country after taking the provincial capital of Goma on the Rwandan border, ramping up tensions in a fragile region.

“We’ll stay in Goma waiting for negotiations,” Jean-Marie Runiga, head of the M23 rebel movement’s political arm, told Reuters in the city. “They’re going to attack us and we’re going to defend ourselves and keep on advancing.”

Rebel fighters seized the sprawling lakeside city of a million people on Tuesday after government soldiers retreated and UN peacekeepers gave up trying to defend it. The rebels have since taken Sake, a strategic town about 25 kilometres west along a strategic highway, bolstered by army defectors.

Regional and international leaders have been scrambling to halt the fresh conflagration in the Great Lakes, a region of many colonial-era frontiers and long a tinderbox of ethnic and political conflict, fuelled by mineral deposits, including gold, diamonds and coltan, an ore of rare metals used in computers.

Yesterday, foreign ministers from the states of the Great Lakes region demanded the rebels leave Goma and halt their advance, and Kabila – in a concession to the rebels that fell short of opening talks – promised to look into their grievances.

“I’m not confident, because I’ve already waited for three months in Kampala for talks,” Runiga said of a recent spell in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Reuters)

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