Negotiations between the Congolese government and eastern rebels are expected to take place this week, regional officials said after the insurgents withdrew from the city of Goma.

The eight-month insurgency by M23 rebels poses the biggest threat to Congolese President Joseph Kabila in years and risks developing into a war that could drag in neighboring armies. Already there were talks of the Tanzania’s army being involved in stopping the insurgents.

Ugandan officials leading the peace talks between the Congolese government and the rebel M23 said the two sides were expected in the Ugandan capital Kampala this week.

M23′s political leader Jean-Marie Runiga said the rebels were “ready” for talks, where the rebels will make their demands.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said peace talks were critical for region’s stability. Rwanda has been part of a regional effort to ensure peace is restored in the region.

Historically, Rwanda has always played the crucial meddling role in Congo’s conflicts but President Paul Kagame has repeatedly denied involvement in the latest fighting. Kagame rather believes that Rwanda has been made a scapegoat by Congo and world powers as an explanation of their failure to end the conflict.

The Eastern parts of Congo’s have suffered twenty years of conflict stoked by ethnic and political enmities and fighting over the region’s rich resources of gold, tin, tungsten and coltan – a precious metal used to make mobile phones. I actually first learnt about coltan last Friday and its use on cell-phones.

In April, a fresh rebellion erupted after Tutsi former rebels that had been integrated into Congo’s army under a previous peace deal mutinied calling themselves M23.

An M23 spokesperson, Amani Kabasha, confirmed they were awaiting a call from regional mediator Uganda, which brokered the rebel retreat from Goma to positions 20km outside the city, to return to Kampala for peace talks with Kinshasa.

“(Our withdrawal from Goma) was the condition for Kabila to agree to dialogue. It is the price we are paying for dialogue,” Kabasha said by telephone from the Congolese border town of Bunagana. He said the rebels still harbored doubts about Kabila’s sincerity over negotiations.

Kinshasa re-established control of Goma on Monday following the rebels’ exit, though the city remains tense in the absence of any definitive peace accord.

The Congo government should move with speed to initiate negotiations with the rebels if it is to avoid a fresh round of fighting.

The M23 had withdrawn from Goma after controlling it for 11 days, but Kinshasa is still dragging its feet in initiating the talks. President Joseph Kabil should work closely with Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who applied crucial behind-the-scenes pressure to have the rebels withdraw.

The Great Lakes region cannot afford a prolonged conflict, having caused deaths, serious displacement of people and proliferation of weapons in the wrong hands.

“Until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story” – Chinua Achebe

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Photography by zimbio.com