KAMPALA, Uganda -- Congolese rebels and government officials prepared on Thursday for direct peace talks in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, their first face-to-face encounter since the rebels relinquished Goma, one of the Democratic Republic of Congo's principal cities, after capturing it last month.
"Since May, we asked Kabila to come to the table," said Amani Kabasha, a spokesman for the March 23 rebels, or M23, at the rebel-held border post of Rumangabo. Mr. Kabasha said his delegation was awaiting vehicles sent by the Ugandan government to carry them to Kampala. "He didn't agree, he used force, arms, fighting. But now, because he was defeated, he agrees," Mr. Kabasha said, referring to President Joseph Kabila.
An uneasy rhythm of commerce and calm returned to Goma this week as Congolese government soldiers again patrolled the streets and the port and airport reopened, allowing a fresh influx of people and cargo, as well as much-needed humanitarian aid for more than 100,000 people displaced by the recent fighting.
"It's as good as it has been for the last two and a half weeks," Tariq Riebl, a humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam in Goma, said Thursday. But the situation remained "very dynamic, very fluid," he said.
In the strategic area of Masisi, to the northwest of Goma, fighting has continued to flare between government troops and numerous militias. Masisi has long been a hotbed of militia groups and ethnic tensions, and humanitarian relief workers said they were increasingly worried about the situation.
Furthermore, neither side has said it has any real faith in the upcoming talks, which delegates said would likely begin Friday, or possibly late Thursday.
"It's not a negotiation," said a Congolese government spokesman, Lambert Mende. "We will receive a grievance from M23 and help the president compare with what was decided in 2009," when the peace agreement for which the rebels are named was signed on March 23.
"We are not very optimistic, because we know that M23 is a very small part of the problem; we need the problem to be solved regionally, and internationally," Mr. Mende said.
The governments of Uganda and Rwanda have denied accusations by a United Nations panel of covertly supporting the M23 rebels, including in the rebels' capture of Goma. Both countries have been accused of supporting other Congolese rebels groups in the past.
Many of the rebels' demands, which the government has dismissed, would benefit Rwanda and Uganda, which are two main transit points for commercial exports from eastern Congo.
"We want more than decentralization, we want federalism," said Mr. Kabasha, although the specific demands had not yet been finalized. "The eastern parts of Congo's interests are in eastern Africa. Decentralization means that the leader is near the population."
In recent days there have been reports of lootings and rape, summary executions and recruitment of children, the United Nations office for humanitarian affairs has said. In Goma, there have also been reports of targeted killings.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.