Congo Asks M23 Rebels to Disband After Peace Agreement

Democratic Republic of Congo’s government urged the M23 rebel group to disband after the Central African nation agreed to a United Nations-backed plan to restore state authority along its eastern border.

“Now is the time to make a solemn appeal to the M23 to adhere to the recommendations of the United Nations Security Council by ending its existence and conforming to the laws of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Media Minister Lambert Mende told reporters today in Kinshasa, the capital, in a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda.

The Feb. 24 agreement, signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and officials from African regional organizations and 11 African nations, is designed as a framework to end almost two decades of conflict in the region.

The M23 was created when rebels who had joined the national army mutinied in April amid concerns that the International Criminal Court would arrest one of their leaders, former army General Bosco Ntaganda, on charges of war crimes.

The M23 captured the border trading hub of Goma in November before withdrawing to negotiate with the government. It retains control of a large swath of land along Congo’s border with Rwanda and Uganda.

While the M23 supports the accord signed in Addis Ababa, it won’t agree to the government’s call to disband, the group’s political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga, said by phone today from the Nyiragongo area of eastern Congo.

Cobalt Producer

“The M23 is ready to respect the framework, but we are waiting for the government to do what they’ve been asked to do,” Runiga said.

Congo, almost the size of Western Europe, produces about half the world’s cobalt and about 3 percent of its copper and has large deposits of gold, coltan, tin and diamonds. It has struggled to control its border regions since the official end of conflict in 2003.

According to the agreement, Congo’s government will restructure its army and police and improve local governance by increasing the number of provinces from 11 to 26. The UN will appoint a special envoy to the region to promote “durable solutions” to the conflict, according to the accord.

Ban will meet with the Security Council next week to discuss the special envoy and the proposed addition of an intervention brigade to the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Congo with a strengthened mandate to attack rebel groups, mission spokesman Carlos Araujo said.

Drone Offers

The UN is also considering possible offers from more than two dozen companies to provide drones for the mission that will monitor the country’s border with Rwanda, he said.

On the day the accord was signed, fighting broke out between M23 factions, according to the UN and Congolese government.

Four rebels and four civilians were killed when Ntaganda’s supporters clashed with allies of another M23 commander, General Sultani Makenga, Araujo told reporters in Kinshasa today. Mende said more than 17 people died in the fighting around the town of Rutshuru, including a local journalist.

Makenga’s phone was turned off when called for comment. Runiga said the movement was attacked by another rebel group and denied reports that the M23 leadership was divided over the agreement.

Congo says Rwanda supports the group, and a 2012 UN report said Ugandan officials aided the rebels as well. Both countries deny the charges.

As part of the framework agreement, regional governments including Rwanda and Uganda pledged not to support armed groups and to respect the sovereignty of neighboring nations.

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