KINSHASA, Congo (AP) – Congo’s president on Saturday vowed reforms to unify the country and appease his opponents as he faces growing criticism and the threat of renewed rebel violence in the country’s east.
In his yearly state of the nation address, President Joseph Kabila also called on the country’s citizens to mobilize against aggression after the capture and retreat of strategic territories by the M23 rebel group.
“On all three fronts, diplomatic, political and military, we will continue our efforts unabatedly until there is victory and definitive and durable peace for us and our region,” he said to hundreds of senators and dignitaries on Saturday.
“After all of these experiences, how can we not see that the attitude and actions of those who repeatedly make war prove that only a strong republican army we will keep our dignity and safeguard the territorial integrity of our country, ” he said.
Goma, a city of about 1 million people and a major trading hub for minerals extracted from Congo’s lucrative mines, fell to the M23 rebel group on Nov. 20. It took days of negotiations, intense international pressure, and the hammer of United Nations sanctions for the thousands of fighters for M23 to finally withdraw from the regional capital earlier this month.
M23 is made up of hundreds of soldiers who deserted the Congolese army in April. 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 their demands 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 The Associated Press, includes the resignation Kabila and the dissolution of the national assembly. The rebels called for the creation of a transitional government that would run the country while new elections are organized, starting with local elections.
Kabila on Saturday re-affirmed the importance of discussions in Kampala, Uganda.
“Pursuing the quest for a solution to this armed conflict, the government accepts to meet under the auspices the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, those who plotted and attacked” Congo, he said.
Kabila also backed charges made by a U.N. report that said Rwanda is backing the M23 rebel group.
“Our country has traversed difficult moments, one and the other, an unjust war has been imposed on us. All that has been said on this war about the aggressions of Rwanda, has been backed by sufficiently documented evidence,” on the part of the U.N. he said.
Rwanda denies the charges.
The president’s address comes as he also 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.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)