November 13, 2013
Congo Ready to Sign Document Formalizing Rebel Defeat
The Democratic Republic of Congo said on Wednesday it was ready to sign a “declaration” that reflects the defeat of M23 rebels, despite pulling out of Ugandan-hosted peace talks a day earlier.
Congo and M23 rebels, the latest incarnation of Tutsi-led insurgents to battle the government near the border with Rwanda and Uganda, had been due to conclude a deal on Monday but Congolese negotiators rejected the name of the document.
Kinshasa's accusations against Uganda and the failure to conclude a political deal to accompany M23's military defeat underscored deep-rooted tensions that will complicate efforts to end Congo's most serious rebellion in a decade.
Saying it would not sign a deal with a group its U.N.-backed army had already defeated, Congo demanded a simple declaration from the rebels that they would not take up arms - and again accused Uganda mediators of taking sides.
The M23 said the document arranging the terms for an end to its 20-month uprising had been agreed upon days in advance.
“We will not sign anything that is contradictory to our national interests,” Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said on Wednesday. “If that is understood, we will return to Kampala and we will sign a declaration.”
“False and unhelpful"
Uganda rejected charges of bias in favor of M23, saying Congo had made no formal complaint in 10 months of mediation.
“Thus we take this accusation by Mr Mende as unfair, unfounded, false and unhelpful to the peace process in Congo,” Ofwono Opondo, a spokesman for Uganda's government, told a news conference in Kampala.
U.N. experts have accused Uganda and Rwanda of backing the rebels during the uprising. Both countries deny the charge.
Last November, M23 rebels occupied Goma, a town of a million people and the capital of North Kivu province. They withdrew under intense diplomatic pressure that led to the opening of talks in Uganda.
However, the fall of Goma led to a revamping of Congo's army and the strengthening of the U.N. force and its mandate in Congo. When peace talks faltered, rebels were driven from all the remaining towns they occupied in recent weeks.
Uganda is holding Sultani Makenga, M23's military commander, and several other rebels who fled the government offensive.
Mende complained that Uganda had not handed Makenga over to Congolese authorities, as agreed under a regional agreement signed in Addis Ababa earlier this year.
“Makenga is not in a terra incognita. He is not in the desert,” said Mende. “If he returns to the path of war, we will know that it is Uganda which has put him on that path against the Congo and there will be consequences.”
The Addis Ababa deal called on Congo to push through reforms but also called for an end to external meddling in Congo's conflicts, which have often sucked in armies of foreign states.
Opondo said Uganda would not hand Makenga over to Kinshasa. Once an agreement was signed with M23, its commander could be turned in to the United Nations or the African Union, he said.