DRC, M23 rebels set to sign peace deal
11 November 2013, 15:45
Kampala - The Democratic Republic of Congo and defeated M23
rebels are set to sign a peace deal Monday in what the UN hopes will be a key
step in efforts to end decades of war in the Great Lakes region.
The rebels, one of many armed groups operating in the
mineral-rich east of the DRC, have been routed by the national army, who are
backed by a 3 000-strong special United Nations intervention brigade.
Allegedly supported by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda but
seemingly abandoned by their sponsors due to international pressure, the M23
announced last week that their 18-month insurgency was over. They are expected
to put this in writing in Uganda on Monday.
"Our hope is that we have a firm commitment from the
M23 rebels to renounce their use of arms," said DR Congo government
spokesman Lambert Mende.
The M23, a mainly ethnic-Tutsi force who mutinied from the
Congolese army, have not confirmed Monday's meeting. But with no more military
leverage they are seen as having little room for manoeuvre.
The agreement is expected to settle the fate of about 1 500
M23 fighters who have crossed into Uganda and are languishing in camps along
the border. Uganda has refused to hand them over to the DR Congo.
Around 100 more injured rebels have crossed to Rwanda.
Mende said the rebels would be dealt with "case by
case" - with many rank-and-file fighters expected to be given the option
to return to the army.
More complicated is the fate of around 100 M23 commanders.
These include M23 leader Sultani Makenga, accused of participating in several
massacres, mutilations, abductions and sexual violence, sometimes against
The United Nations' special envoy to the Great Lakes, Mary
Robinson, told AFP the accord would be "a very important step for
She said the deal will also be followed by operations to
neutralise other rebel groups in a concerted effort to end one of Africa's most
brutal and longest-running wars.
This would be "new and welcome news for the people...
who have tolerated or have had to endure for far too long these armed groups,
with the raping and re-raping, with the displacement of people," she said.
"It has been intolerable, and now there really is
hope," said the former Irish president.
Role of Uganda and Rwanda
But even if a deal is signed, stabilising eastern DRC
will not be easy. Previous peace deals for the region have foundered because
they were not implemented or did not address underlying problems.
Oxfam on Monday warned that "with more than 30 other
armed groups active in the region, the conflict is far from over" and that
civilians are still being exposed to violence on a daily basis.
Human Rights Watch last week said "numerous challenges
remain" and noted that eastern DRC "has been beleaguered by abuses by
other armed groups, as well as by the Congolese army itself."
Robinson said she believed Rwandan President Paul Kagame and
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni - who deny backing the M23 were committed to an 11-nation regional peace
agreement signed in February.
She said the priority would now shift to defeating the DRC-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a descendant
of Hutu extremist groups that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Rwanda's minority Tutsi-led government views the FDLR as a
major security threat, and dealing with the group is seen as crucial to
addressing the neighbouring country's concerns and preventing the emergence of
yet another Rwandan-backed proxy.
But not everyone in the DRC is convinced.
Several aid agencies and Congolese civil society groups last
week dismissed the peace negotiations as "nonsense" and denounced the
impending "integration of criminals and foreigners" back into the
A researcher for the Enough Project, a US group campaigning
against war crimes, said Rwandan and Ugandan meddling could still scupper a
"It must be noted that Museveni does not hide his
feelings for the M23 when he demands a general amnesty and their unconditional
reintegration," Fidel Bafilemba said.
"The fact that Uganda says it won't extradite the
rebels leads one to think there could be a plan B to rebuild the rebels."