M23 rebels near Goma, Congo, detain a man they suspected of being a member… (Jerome Delay, Associated…)
GOMA, Congo — Rebels who seized the eastern city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo ignored a deadline set by regional leaders to leave and instead spelled out a long list of demands Tuesday.
Officials immediately rejected the conditions set by the M23 rebels, which included the release of political prisoners. The Congolese army threatened military action to take back Goma.
"They have refused to leave the city of Goma. This is a declaration of war and we intend to resume combat," military spokesman Olivier Hamuli was reported as saying.
Army troops were hunkered down in the town of Minova, 36 miles from Goma.
The impasse came after several days of intense diplomatic efforts, increasing worry that the region could slide into another long war. The presidents of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania had urged the rebels to withdraw from Goma, which they took last week without government forces putting up a fight.
Earlier Tuesday, Ugandan officials announced that M23 rebels were ready to give up Goma, according to news agencies.
But the rebel group's political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga, said at a news conference in Goma that the rebels wouldn't give up the city unless Congolese President Joseph Kabila agreed to conditions covering issues that went well beyond the group's original grievances regarding what it considers Kabila's failure to live up to a 2009 peace deal.
The demands also include the dissolution of the electoral commission, which late last year determined that Kabila had been elected to another five-year term as president. The African Union, the United Nations and others had appealed for election disputes to be resolved peacefully, but the M23's emergence followed in April.
Runiga said finding solutions to the many problems in the country would require national talks.
"We want the involvement of the political opposition, civil society and the diaspora so we can tackle these issues together, so that the people hear the truth and that once and for all we find a solution to the problems that have poisoned our society and politics," he said. "We are fighting to find solutions to Congo's problems."
Government spokesman Lambert Mende was reported as describing M23's actions as a farce.
"If each day they're going to come back with new demands, it becomes ridiculous," Mende said.
According to UNICEF, at least 21 cases of rape have been reported in recent days in Minova. Rapes have often been used as a weapon of war in eastern Congo's waves of conflict and terrorism, much of it having ethnic and tribal undercurrents.
There were border skirmishes Tuesday between another Congolese rebel group and Rwandan forces.
The conflict has its roots in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when members of ethnic Hutu militias killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly ethnic Tutsis. The M23 is a Tutsi militia close to Rwanda, which says it wants to prevent attacks by Hutu militias. The rebels and their leaders, including Bosco Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, control mines and resources in the region.
A U.N. report this month accused the government of Rwanda of commanding and supporting the M23 rebels. It also accused Uganda of arming the rebels.