KAMPALA, Uganda -- Congolese rebels threatened to pull out of peace talks with the Congolese government, after accusing the Congolese military of arming militias to reinforce positions along the front lines in eastern Congo.
The accusations come amid reports from international observers of heavy militarization in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by both sides since hostilities formally ended last month to pave the way for peace talks. The rebel threat cast a new cloud over the long-delayed negotiations, which were supposed to get under way Friday here in the Ugandan capital.
"They are preparing to attack our positions," said Bertrand Bisimwa, a spokesman for the rebel group, known as the March 23 Movement, or M23, in Kampala.
"They don't want to make peace," said Mr. Bisimwa of the Congolese government. "If they attack us, we will defend ourselves, and we don't know what will happen."
Mr. Bisimwa echoed remarks made a day earlier by rebel leadership that the Congolese government sign a cease-fire agreement before progressing with talks.
The Congolese government agreed to direct talks with the M23 rebels last month after the rebels embarrassed government troops by capturing large areas of territory and Goma, one of Congo's principal cities, in a matter of days, before withdrawing in anticipation of talks, taking with them nearly every weapon the city could offer.
Since then, humanitarian organizations in eastern Congo say, large columns of the Congolese military have refortified Goma and its surrounding areas, activating old allegiances with anti-Rwandan rebels along the border. Rwanda has been accused of backing the M23 rebels, including in their takeover of Goma, and a convoy of armored vehicles was recently reported crossing the border into Congo to enforce rebel positions.
A Congolese government spokesman could not be reached for comment on Friday, but on Thursday he dismissed the rebel threat. The spokesman, Lambert Mende, said the rebel group "wants permission to kill Congolese without the army reacting, and we will never accept that," according to Reuters.
"If they attack us, attack the people, the army will defend the people," Mr. Mende said.
The strong language, coupled with the steep increase in militarization on the ground, and the casual pace of the talks so far -- the delegations spent most of December at high-end Kampala hotels debating what to debate -- increasingly raise questions over whether the talks can succeed.
"The talks in Kampala are taking place purely to satisfy international public opinion that 'something is done,' " said Gérard Prunier, the author of a book on the conflict, "Africa's World War." "The real players are only beginning to jockey for position."
Since the mid-1990s the Congo's army and its allied militias have fought with Rwanda-allied militias over the mineral deposits and fertile countryside of eastern Congo, passing through periods of peace negotiations and relative calm, and at times dragging various nations from across the continent into the conflict. While international focus on the problem has ebbed and flowed through the years, the hidden hands in the cycle of violence have become more visible.
In 2009, peace talks between Rwanda and Congo and between the Congolese government and Rwanda-backed rebels brought an unprecedented détente between the two nations, with Rwanda arresting the Congolese rebel leader and the rest of the rebels integrating into influential positions through eastern Congo. Three years later they mutinied to form the M23 rebels.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.