Internally displaced Congolese wait for food to be distributed by WFP at the Mugunga 3 camp outside the eastern Congolese town of Goma Sunday Dec. 2, 2012. Rebels say they will take back Congo's city of Goma if the government does not agree to negotiate with them by Monday. The M23 rebels completed their withdrawal of the eastern Congo city on Saturday, in compliance with an agreement reached between the rebel group and a regional body. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
GOMA, Congo (AP) — Rebels, who finally withdrew from this regional capital over the weekend, said they are waiting for a 48-hour deadline to expire on Monday afternoon, before deciding if they will take back the city.
After a nearly two-week occupation, the M23 rebel group agreed to leave Goma on the condition that Congo's government enters into negotiations with them by 2 p.m. Monday.
"We are currently 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside of Goma. We gave Kinshasa a 48-hour deadline, and we are now waiting for these 48 hours to expire," said rebel spokesman Col. Vianney Kazarama, who was reached by telephone. "You should call Congo and ask them what they plan to do. They have not yet contacted us. And we are waiting to see what happens, before pronouncing ourselves."
Despite the rebels' retreat from Goma, which was a pre-requisite set by the Congolese government for negotiations, President Joseph Kabila has not yet made clear if the government will negotiate.
Congo's government spokesman was not immediately available for comment late Monday morning, with an aide saying he was in a meeting.
On Sunday, the spokesman for the government, Lambert Mende, said the president would listen to M23's grievances and then give them an answer about negotiations.
"No one will give them the chance," to return to Goma, he said.
In recent weeks, the enormous, jungle-covered nation of Congo, whose capital is over 1,000 miles away from this provincial eastern city, came closer to blows with its smaller, but more developed neighbor, Rwanda, which is accused of arming the M23 rebels, as well as of sending soldiers across the border.
The rebels claim to be fighting for the better implementation of a March 23, 2009 peace accord, which saw them integrated into the national army. Analysts, including with the United Nations Group of Experts, say that the real reason for the rebellion is Rwanda's desire to annex territory in the mineral-rich mountains at the border between the two countries.
In Goma, residents whose lives were upended two weeks ago when rebels invaded the town on Nov. 20, tried their best to go about their lives.
Most shops had re-opened, as the city of 1 million was slowly trying to get back to normal despite incertitude about what will happen in coming hours. A woman selling secondhand clothes at the Virunga market said she had no choice.
"We're not going to wait forever, are we? I need to feed my children," said Anette Murkendiwa.
Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.