Rwandan-backed rebels and tribal Mai Mai warriors have agreed on a cease-fire in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United Nations, which has mediated the talks, hopes this will be the first of many local initiatives aimed at stopping fighting throughout the eastern part of the country. The country's five-year war formally ended some two months ago, but fighting continues.
The deal was worked on Wednesday in the town of Shabunda, in South Kivu province, some 170 kilometers west of the provincial capital Bukavu, which lies on the Rwandan border.
Rwandan backed fighters of the RCD-Goma (or Rally for Congolese Democracy) ex-rebel group, the largest such group in the country, and leaders of the Mai Mai warrior sect agreed to stop fighting, and allow freedom of movement for civilians across the surrounding areas.
The agreement is the first of its kind brokered by the United Nations between the warring Mai Mai and RCD-Goma movements.
Congo's peace deal was formally sealed with the swearing-in of a new government of national reconciliation in July, which formally put an end to five years of war that had claimed over three million lives. But hostilities between warring parties have continued in the east of the country.
Both the Mai Mai, who fight with spears, bows, arrows and guns, and RCD-Goma are represented in the new power sharing government. RCD-Goma had time and again accused the Mai Mai of being backed by the former government and of fighting alongside Hutu extremists involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The agreement, which the U.N. hopes will be the first of many local initiatives between separate Mai Mai and RCD-Goma battalions, aims to end the continuing skirmishing between armed groups in North and South Kivu, where U.N. troops are deployed.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee fighting in the Kivus this year alone. U.N. troops are now hoping to accelerate their deployment throughout the Kivus, as well as in Ituri province further north, where ethnic fighting between armed Hema and Lendu militia has cost 50,000 lives since 1999.