President Jacob Zuma must pull his troops out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) if he's interested in helping bring peace in the eastern part of that country. That's a plea by DRC rebels M23 as Zuma begins a two-day state visit to his counterpart Joseph Kabila in the capital Kinshasa on Tuesday.
Zuma arrived in Kinshasa on Monday just days after the collapse of peace talks that were held in Uganda's capital Kampala and fresh fighting erupted in several areas of the North Kivu province. Kabila's government refused to sign the peace deal unless M23 removed its deputy negotiation chief, Roger Lumbala, a former MP. The M23's refusal to give in resulted in the government delegation staging a walk-out.
Zuma and Kabila are scheduled to discuss economic, political and security co-operation, but the conflict in the east is likely to overshadow all other points of discussion.
"We're requesting Zuma to speak to Kabila to stop the fatalities," said M23 spokesperson Lawrence Kingston in an interview with the Mail & Guardian.
"South Africa should stop sending military to Congo. He's got to help the Congolese people live side by side in peace instead of helping Kabila kill them."
South Africa sent troops to the DRC earlier in the year as part of the United Nations mission to neutralise armed groups in the country.
South Africa is deeply involved in the conflict by virtue of being one of the longest serving countries in the UN peacekeeping mission Monusco and the country is now the backbone of the Southern African Development Community intervention brigade that's been authorised to use force to neutralise the M23.
After the collapse of Kampala talks, the DRC's government army FARDC re-launched attacks on M23 strongholds in Kibati, Kibumba and Kiwanja areas in North Kivu province.
M23 promised to retaliate should an attack on their positions continue.
"If you give South Africans helicopters to come and fight here I'm telling you we're not going to let ourselves be killed again," Kingston said.
"What's the point of continuing talking [peace talks] when our people are being killed? Don't tell us to lay down arms and then kills us when we're busy with talks."
M23 abandoned the movement's headquarters of Bunagana on Monday night and FARDC also took control of Kibumba.
On its Twitter account, M23 signalled that they're ready to fight back, saying they have now converged in the Virunga Mountains that are difficult to reach even with military tanks.
— M23 Congo DRC (@m23congordc) October 28, 2013
The Virunga Mountains are in a national park bordering Rwanda.
M23 has always maintained that countries such as South Africa that take part in peace-building in the DRC are mainly interested in the economic benefits, such as investments in the country's minerals instead of finding the root causes of the conflict and finding a lasting solution.
South Africa's business interests have been growing rapidly in the DRC since the two countries signed a general co-operation agreement in 2004.
For this state visit, the two presidents are expected to sign a treaty on the Grand Inga Project, a hydro-electric project expected to be the largest in Africa with a capacity to power half of the continent. The DRC has got vast water resources in addition to coltan, gold, diamonds, tin, copper, cobalt and oil.
Zuma is accompanied by a high-level delegation of ministers and businesspeople on his trip to the DRC.
In Kinshasa, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has already called on both the M23 and the Congolese government to return to the negotiating table.