By Pete Jones
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo has ruled out granting amnesty to some 100 senior M23 rebels, it said on Thursday, leaving open the possibility that these commanders could be pursued even after peace talks are concluded.
Talks began in Uganda last week, after the army, backed by U.N. troops, scored rare military successes in August, forcing M23 into negotiations which could lead to the majority of rebels being reintegrated into the army which they deserted in 2012.
"We have a list of around 100 M23 commanders who will not be eligible for amnesty or for reintegration into the national army," government spokesman Lambert Mende told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa.
Rebels ineligible for any amnesty were those who had taken part in multiple rebellions, were on international sanctions lists or had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, Mende told journalists.
"To reintegrate these individuals would legitimate recourse to armed violence and insurrection," Mende said. The rest of the estimated 1,700 M23 rebels would be considered on a case by case basis, he added.
M23's reaction was muted. Spokesman Amani Kabashi said the government's decision would not jeopardise the negotiations.
"The dialogues will continue," Kabasha told Reuters by telephone from M23's base in its heartland North Kivu province.
"We don't even want to reintegrate. If the talks can bring security, then we are all happy to do something else: farm, or teach, to help our population," he said.
The M23 insurgency is the latest incarnation of a Tutsi-dominated rebellion that has repeatedly tried to integrate into the Congolese army, only to withdraw. Its fighters deserted en masse 18 months ago, accusing the government of reneging on a 2009 peace deal.
U.N. investigators and the Congolese government have accused Rwanda of sponsoring the rebellion, a charge Rwanda denies.
The government stance against a blanket amnesty is supported by Mary Robinson, U.N. special envoy to the region.
"We believe that there should not be amnesty for those accused of having committed serious crimes, nor should they be integrated in the armed forces of the DRC," she said this month.