Democratic Republic Congo's President Joseph Kabila attends
the signing ceremony of the Peace, Security and Cooperation
Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the
Great Lakes, at the African Union Headquarters in
Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
African leaders have signed a UN-mediated deal aimed at
ending two decades of conflict in the east of the Democratic
Republic of Congo and paving the way for the deployment of a
new military brigade to take on rebel groups.
Congo's army is fighting the M23 rebels, who have hived off a
fiefdom in North Kivu province in a conflict that has dragged
Congo's eastern region back into war and displaced more than
half a million people.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who witnessed the signing
in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said he hoped the
accord would bring "an era of peace and stability" for Congo
and Africa's Great Lakes, and added that he would soon name a
special envoy for the region.
The Great Lakes area, where colonial era borders cut through
ethnic groups has in the last 20 years been a crucible of
conflict that has launched multiple uprisings and invasions.
"It is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that
will require sustained engagement," Ban said of the accord,
which did not include any representatives of rebel groups.
The agreement was signed by leaders and envoys of 11 African
countries, including Rwanda and Uganda, which have been
accused by UN experts of stoking the rebellion. They deny the
Speaking after the signing, Ugandan Vice President Edward
Ssekandi said the deal could speed up the deployment of a
new, UN-flagged intervention force to take on the rebels.
"We should be able to fast-track the ongoing consultation so
that the force with a robust mandate and capability is put in
place," he said.
African leaders failed to sign the deal last month after a
disagreement over who would command the force.
A fresh rebellion launched in May 2012 by the M23 group has
brought more fighting and displacement to eastern Congo. In
November the rebels seized the provincial capital Goma, but
left the city to open the way for peace talks, which are
being held in neighbouring Uganda.
Those separate talks between Congo's government and the
rebels are aimed at reaching an agreement on a range of
economic, political and security issues, including amnesty
for "war and insurgency acts", the release of political
prisoners and reparation of damages due to the war.
But the rebels have broadened their goals to include the
removal of Kabila and "liberation" of the entire Congo.
Bertrand Bisimwa, M23's spokesman said he had not read the
full details of the Addis Ababa deal, but hoped it would not
reignite fighting between them and government troops.
"What I can say is that if they are choosing the way of peace
we are fine with that, but if they are choosing to continue
the war then we're against," he told Reuters.
Uganda's Ssekandi said the talks in Kampala were now focused
on security and that their discussions were so far positive.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila said the talks with rebels
would continue, but there was little time left before a March
15 deadline to complete them.
"What we have done in Addis is just a diplomatic measure. The
discussions in Kampala will continue but we need to pay
attention to the fact that we do not have a lot of time,"
Kabila told a news conference in after signing the deal.
ADDIS DEAL NOT THE END
Successive cross-border conflicts have killed and uprooted
millions in the Congo basin since the colonial era, driven by
political and ethnic divisions and competition for vast
mineral resources like gold, tin, tungsten and coltan - a
precious metal used to make mobile phones.
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame said Sunday's deal should not
be taken as an end in itself, but as part of continuing peace
"At the heart of our efforts, we have to keep in mind the
rights, interests and aspirations of the afflicted
populations, caught up in the recurring waves of violence,"
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice,
welcomed the agreement and called on the Congo government to
build on the deal to restore authority in the east.
In an apparent reference to the role of Rwanda and Uganda,
Rice said: "It is equally imperative that the DRC's
neighbours respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity
by preventing external support to armed groups, which is a
violation of international obligations."
Theodore Trefon, a regional analyst and author of the book
Congo Masquerade, said he believed the Addis agreement and
the stalled peace talks in Kampala had failed to look for
long-term solutions or tackle underlying grievances which had
stoked violence in the region.
"You're not going to be able to impose peace from above or
the outside on people who don't want peace. Lots of local
actors have hidden agendas," he told Reuters from Brussels.