BUNAGANA, Congo - Congo's M23 rebels are sending a delegation to Kampala, Uganda, to negotiate with the Congolese government Thursday, the rebels' president said.
"Our delegation will drive to Kampala for talks," M23 president Jean-Marie Runiga told the Associated Press.
Runiga said talks with representatives of President Joseph Kabila's Kinshasa government must be wide-ranging negotiations to cover constitutional and governance issues and should include the Congolese opposition and civic organizations.
Runiga spoke in the small town of Bunagana, on the border with Uganda. He sat in a field outside the town, flanked by three armed guards.
When asked why the M23 had withdrawn to positions two miles from Goma, instead of the 12 miles agreed upon, Runiga insisted that the rebels had retreated nearly 40 miles from Masisi, which more than fulfills the 12-mile retreat required by the Kinshasa government. Runiga denied that the government said the rebels must move 12 miles from Goma.
The prospect of talks in Uganda comes as the strategic Congo city of Goma, with one million people, struggles toward normalcy.
Goma was held for two weeks by the M23 rebels, who now remain just two miles away in the hills above the city. Although many shops in Goma have reopened, most banks have remained closed, paralyzing the city's business.
The M23 rebels - who are backed by Rwanda, according to the United Nations - have threatened to retake Goma unless Kabila starts negotiations.
Despite the rebels' retreat from Goma, which was a prerequisite set by the Congolese government for negotiations, the government has not yet confirmed if it will talk with the rebels. On Sunday, government spokesman Lambert Mende said Kabila would listen to M23's grievances and then respond.
"I hope for Kabila's sake that the negotiations happen, because we have nothing to lose," said M23 political officer Stanislas Baleke. "Next time we won't stop at Goma. We'll go all the way to Uvira," 220 miles to the south.