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October 21, 2013

Despite Progress, Congo Peace Talks Stall

by Margaret Besheer

The U.N.’s top diplomat in the Democratic Republic of Congo says talks between that country's government and M23 rebels have stalled after making some progress.

Martin Koebler warned Monday that despite the talks, U.N. peacekeepers have observed the M23 reinforcing its positions in the eastern Congo.

Limited agreement

After four days and nights of negotiations between the DRC and M23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Koebler said the talks ended with agreement on eight out of 11 issues.

“I consider that the remaining gaps can be bridged," he said. "That is why it is all the more regrettable that this unique opportunity could not be seized to come to an overall deal.”

He urged the parties, particularly the M23, to seize the momentum and resolve outstanding issues in the coming days.

M23 was formed last April by about 300 former members of the CNDP rebel group who had joined the army following a March 23, 2009 peace agreement. The rebels-turned-soldiers decided to become rebels again, saying the government had failed to fulfill that agreement and was treating them poorly.

In November, M23 seized and briefly held the provincial capital of Goma in North Kivu.

Volatile situation

Briefing the U.N. Security Council via a videolink from Uganda, Koebler also warned that the situation on the ground in Congo's North Kivu province remains volatile.

He said in recent days, U.N. peacekeepers have observed a “considerable military build-up” on both sides of the frontline. He said the mission also has information that M23 has strengthened its frontline position near Goma.

The rebels have fired twice at U.N. helicopters and have strengthened offensive positions threatening peacekeepers.

“However, for the sake of safeguarding an environment conducive for a negotiated settlement, I decided not to retaliate according to the rules of engagement," Koebler said.
 
Koebler also highlighted threats from other rebel groups, including the FDLR and the Allied Democratic Forces and the continued recruitment of child soldiers.  Koebler said nearly 1,000 cases of children being recruited by rebel groups was documented between January 2012 and this August.

He underscored the problem of foreign interference, saying the U.N. has interviewed some 200 surrendering combatants who testified that they were recruited on Ugandan, but mainly Rwandan, territory.

“This, and other kinds of external involvement, must stop,” Koebler said.

Both Uganda and Rwanda have denied allegations they support M23.

Outstanding issues

The U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, spoke to the council via a video link from Addis Ababa. 

She said among the items the government and rebels agreed on in Kampala include the release of prisoners; the end of M23 as a rebel movement and the possibility of it re-establishing itself as a political party; the return and resettlement of refugees and displaced persons; and the establishment of a National Reconciliation Commission.

She also outlined the outstanding issues between the parties.

“While the parties have made progress in the negotiations, they have not been able to reach an agreement on the issues of amnesty, integration, disengagement and security arrangements," Robinson said. "They have agreed to reconvene soon in order to overcome their differences.”

On the amnesty issue, she said the current draft grants amnesty and integration to all members of M23, except those indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, gross violations of human rights, sexual violence, and the recruitment of child soldiers.