By Todd Pitman
KIGALI, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The leaders of three rival rebel factions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are to meet in Uganda this week in an attempt to bridge deep rifts between them and form a united front against President Laurent Kabila.
Rebel officials said on Thursday that leaders of the three factions, as well as delegations from key foreign allies Uganda and Rwanda, would open a three-day meeting in the southern Ugandan town of Kabale on Friday.
"We are hoping to form a common front, one single organisation that would be united both politically and militarily," said Kin-Kiey Mulumba, spokesman for the main wing of the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD).
"If we are together we'll be stronger, we'll have more credibility and we'll be a real alternative to Kabila's regime."
Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose Congolese Liberation Movement rebel group operates in northern Congo with Uganda's support, said the meeting was designed to improve relations between the factions.
"We hope to work out a common programme and speak in the same language," he told Reuters.
A formal ceasefire in the war began in early September but sporadic fighting has continued with the government and rebels accusing each other of violating the deal.
While the rebels insist they are only defending themselves when attacked, the purpose of this week's meeting in Uganda appears to be to draw up a common military strategy in the event of a return to all-out war.
The rebels took up arms in August 1998 and the war has drawn in armies from across the continent since the rebels took up arms in August 1998. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola back Kabila's government and Rwanda and Uganda are helping the rebels.
Rwanda and Uganda, however, have differed over how to conduct the war and each favours a separate wing of the RCD.
Relations between the two staunch allies reached a low in August, when their armies fought a three-day gun battle for control of the northeastern Congolese city of Kisangani.
Both countries have poured thousands of troops into the Congo and hold tremendous sway over their allied rebel groups
But previous efforts to unite the rebels have failed, with each faction accusing the other of working for personal benefit rather than for the vast country's future.
Mulumba said the leader of his group, Emile Ilunga, would attend the meeting along with Bemba and Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, who heads the Ugandan-backed splinter faction of the RCD.
Meanwhile, a rebel official said Zimbabwean troops had renewed attacks on rebel positions outside the town of Bokungu, some 800 km northeast of the capital Kinshasa.
He said heavy combat had taken place there since Tuesday, but there was no independent confirmation of the claim and no other details were available.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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