KINSHASA — The M23 rebel group, which controls part of Democratic Republic of Congo's restive east, threatened Monday to occupy more of the country if President Joseph Kabila's government refuses direct peace talks.
"We have spoken about Mr Kabila's procrastination with regards to negotiations, and the population has said that it wants us to advance at any price, so we can go much further," M23 president Jean-Marie Runiga told AFP.
Controlling territory beyond its current bastion in North Kivu province would "bring change to the country, change the system that has made DR Congo what it is today, a system that impoverishes our population," he said.
"I don't think that we can limit M23 claims to a single province of North Kivu," he added.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has been mediating peace talks between the government in Kinshasa and the M23, but the rebel group, which was formed by army mutineers, is pushing for direct negotiations.
"The population has mandated us today, it has said that we must advance if Kinshasa continues to refuse direct negotiations.... We told Kinshasa to negotiate as soon as possible, tomorrow will be too late," warned Runiga.
The M23 was formed in May by former fighters in an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the military under a 2009 peace deal whose terms the mutineers claim were never fully implemented.
It controls a part of North Kivu's Rutshuru territory, and has been accused of human rights violations by the United Nations and activists.
The group denies those accusations.
On Saturday, it changed the name of its armed wing to the Congolese Revolutionary Army and said it is preparing to fend off expected new attacks by the army.
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