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Congo Government Refuses to Sign Peace Deal With M23 Rebels

Former M23 Rebel Tank
Children play on a burned tank, which formerly belonged to M23 rebel soldiers, in Kibumba, Democratic Republic of Congo, on October 31, 2013. Photographer: Junior D. Kannah/AFP via Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said it refuses to sign a peace accord with the M23 rebel group and will only agree to a document that sets out the fighters’ reintegration into society or their prosecution.

A ceremony at Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s residence at Entebbe was abandoned yesterday after the Congolese government delegation refused to enter the room where the peace agreement was to be signed, according to the Ugandan presidency. Uganda mediated talks that began in December to end the conflict between M23 and the army in eastern Congo.

Congo won’t sign a document titled “peace accord” because the rebel group no longer exists after its forces were defeated last week, Congolese Media Minister Lambert Mende said in an interview today from Kinshasa, the capital. The government wants a document that discusses “their reinsertion into society or the way in which they will face justice.”

M23 ended its 20-month rebellion in eastern Congo on Nov. 5 after Congo’s army seized key positions, including the rebel stronghold of Bunagana, with support from a new United Nations intervention brigade. Dozens of Congolese and foreign armed groups operate in the region, which is rich in tin ore, gold and coltan, an ore used in smartphones and laptops.

Mende accused Uganda, as facilitator of the talks with M23, of “causing the Congolese government some difficulties.” Museveni is “behaving like a party in the conflict,” he said, without elaborating.

‘Long Time’

Uganda’s presidency said yesterday’s ceremony was called off after Congo’s government “took quite a long time” studying the draft accord. M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa and Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda were at State House yesterday, along with diplomats from the U.S., U.K., France, Norway and Belgium and officials from the UN and African Union.

“The understanding is that both delegations will be in contact with the facilitator, Uganda’s Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga and the observers, and if and when they are ready to move forward, the facilitator will give a new date for the signing ceremony,” the presidency said in an e-mailed statement today.

There were no differences between the government and rebels on the substance of the accord, only disagreement on the document’s format, according to a joint statement from representatives of the UN, U.S., European Union and African Union monitoring the peace talks.

Political Conclusion

“Despite a change in the military situation, it is important that there be a political conclusion to the dialogue,” according to the statement e-mailed today.

The government’s demand to change the title of the document was “inadmissible” because debate on the agreement had finished, M23 said in an e-mailed statement today. The text “had already been approved by the two delegations in the presence of the special envoys since Nov. 4,” it said.

M23 rebels began deserting Congo’s army in March 2012, after accusing the government of failing to respect a 2009 peace agreement under which they were integrated into the armed forces. The fighters seized the eastern trading hub of Goma for 11 days last November before withdrawing under international pressure to begin peace talks.

The M23 was the most recent incarnation of a series of rebellions backed by Rwanda, according to Congo’s government. Rwanda denies supporting the insurgents, who, like Rwanda’s government, are mainly led by ethnic-Tutsis.

Congo’s government now plans to target the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, a group of mainly ethnic-Hutu rebels that opposes the Rwandan government. Rwanda says some FDLR members were involved in the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people died. The eradication of the FDLR was one of M23’s main demands.

The group also sought the return of tens of thousands of Congolese Tutsi refugees who’ve been living in camps in Rwanda for more than a decade. Other demands included more protection for minority groups, decentralization of political power to the provinces, and an economic development program for the east.

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