Congolese soldiers defect to rebels amid leaders' meeting

Thousands of Congolese soldiers and policemen defected to the M23 rebels today as rebel leaders vowed to take control of all Congo, including the capital of Kinshasa.

Congo, Rwandan leaders to meet in Uganda

A woman watches while Congo's President Joseph Kabila is seen giving a speech on Tuesday before leaving for Kampala to meet with the president of Rwanda. (Junior D. Kannah/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Thousands of Congolese soldiers and policemen defected to the M23 rebels today as rebel leaders vowed to take control of all Congo, including the capital of Kinshasa.

"We are now going to Kinshasa. No one will divide this country," said Col. Vianney Kazarama, the M23 spokesman, to a cheering crowd of thousands.

The rebels organized the rally at Goma's Stadium of Volcanoes after seizing control of the strategic city in eastern Congo Tuesday.

Kazarama first welcomed the crowd in Swahili by shouting "Goma Jambo !" meaning "Hello Goma!"

Kazarama said the M23 rebels' next goal is Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province on the other side of Lake Kivu. He claimed the rebels already control the town of Sake, 27 kilometres from Goma on the road to Bukavu, and will soon take Minova, a lakeside town in South Kivu.

More than 2,100 army troops and 700 police turned in their weapons, according to M23's Col. Seraphin Mirindi. The former army troops and policemen piled up their arms and ammunition in the stadium.

In Bukavu, people are already demonstrating against the Kinshasa government and in support of the rebels, according to local residents reached by phone.

The Congo soldiers remaining in the government army near Goma said they are not sure what to do.

"We are waiting for orders now. We don't know what we are supposed to do. It's hard. My comrades who defected in Goma, we're going to fight them," said a Congolese army major reached by phone in Kanyabayonga, 106 kilometres to the south, where the troops have regrouped.

The major required anonymity because of the uncertain situation.

Leaders meet in Uganda

The presidents of Congo and Rwanda are meeting in Uganda today for emergency talks to stem growing tensions between the leaders and their nations.

A top Ugandan diplomat with knowledge of the talks said Wednesday that Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Joseph Kabila met Tuesday night in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.

He said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will mediate Wednesday talks.

Twelve-year-old Kakule Elie, hit by a stray bullet, lies in a bed in a hospital in Goma on Tuesday. The hospital says it has admitted 37 injured people since that day, from stray bullets and shrapnel. (Phil Moore/Agence France-Press/Getty Images)

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the meetings, said Kabila may be compelled to enter into direct negotiations with M23 rebels. The Congolese government has said it would not negotiate with the rebels.

"We take it as an emergency meeting," the diplomat said of the talks. "President Kabila is the one who sought the meeting with President Kagame. Museveni had been pressing them to talk. We believe that this is the last chance to solve this thing. The time has come for Congo either to talk or fight [the rebels]. You can't do both."

The UN peacekeepers, known by their acronym MONUSCO, were not helping the government forces during Tuesday's battle because they do not have a mandate to engage the rebels, said Congolese military spokesman Olivier Hamuli, who expressed frustration over the lack of action by the peacekeepers.

A UN spokesman said in New York that the nearly 1,500 UN peacekeepers in Goma held their fire to avoid triggering a battle. The peacekeepers "cannot substitute for the efforts of national forces" in Congo, said spokesman Eduardo del Buey.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said he was "deeply concerned" by the conflict, which has displaced 650,000 people since it began in April.

"We call on any and all support to M23 to cease immediately," Baird said in a statement Tuesday. "Neighbouring countries must work together to resolve the crisis."

UN imposes sanctions on M23

The UN Security Council was set to meet on Wednesday to review the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Congo. A resolution adopted Tuesday by the council asks the UN chief Ban Ki-moon to recommend possible redeployment, and possible "additional force multipliers."

The M23 rebels spokesperson Vianney Kazarama speaks to the crowd who have gathered at a stadium in Goma November 21, 2012. (James Akena/Reuters)

The resolution approved unanimously by the council imposes targeted sanctions, including a travel ban and assets freeze on the M23 rebel group leadership. But it did not name two countries accused by Congo of supporting the rebels: Rwanda and to a smaller extent Uganda, which are accused of equipping them with sophisiticated arms, including night vision goggles and 120-mm mortars.

The council demanded that the M23 rebels withdraw from Goma, disarm and disband, and insisted on the restoration of the crumbing Congolese government authority in the country's turbulent east.

The resolution also calls for an immediate end to external support to the rebels and asks the UN secretary general to report on the allegations of foreign support while expressing its readiness to take appropriate measures.

With files from CBC News