KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo's president vowed Saturday to keep the vast Central African country united amid rebellion in the east, saying that government troops were ready to resume fighting if upcoming peace talks stall yet again.
In a rare 25-minute speech, President Joseph Kabila said that the Congolese army would defend the country and criticized those "who seek all means to destabilize it."
His comments came at a conference he organized to promote national unity, though several opposition parties boycotted the event that comes just days before government negotiators are to return to the Ugandan capital of Kampala for renewed talks with the M23 rebels.
"No effort will be spared so that the talks in Kampala succeed in restoring peace and state authority across the vast nation. Otherwise our forces will again take up their duties," said Kabila, who received wide applause to the statement.
Peace talks between the Congolese government and M23 fighters have repeatedly stalled since the rebels launched their rebellion against the government last year. M23 is widely believed to be backed by the government of Rwanda, heightening tensions between the two neighbors along the border. Rwanda's government denies that it is aiding the rebels.
The addition of a strengthened brigade within the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo has allowed U.N. forces to bolster Congolese efforts to fight the rebels in recent weeks amid an upsurge in violence around the eastern city of Goma, home to nearly 1 million people. A tentative cease-fire is now in place, after fighting in which more than a dozen civilians were killed.
Crispus Kiyonga, a Ugandan government minister who mediates the peace talks, said Saturday that negotiations would resume Monday after both camps gave confirmation.
Martin Kobler, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative to Congo and new mission chief, said Saturday he hoped the upcoming talks would be a success.
"I believe that after the military success there should now be political success and I hope that a solution will be found," he said.
Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza in Johannesburg contributed to this report.