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Congo, M23 Fail to Sign Peace Deal

A Ugandan official says the Democratic Republic of Congo has called off the signing of a peace deal with rebel group M23.

The Congolese government and the rebels were scheduled to sign a document in the Ugandan town of Entebbe Monday. But Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said in a Twitter message that the DRC delegation had, in his words, "aborted the signing."

Opondo told VOA the Congolese delegates refused to enter the room where the signing ceremony was to have taken place and asked for more time to read through the agreement.

One of the leaders of the M23 rebel group, Bertrand Bisimwa, told VOA that the dispute revolves around the fact that the government wants to call the deal a "declaration" while the rebels want to call it a "peace agreement."



"If the government of DRC wants the war, [it] doesn't need to sign anything with us. But if [they] want us to sign an agreement, we say that this document has to respect what we agreed [to] on November 4."





Envoys from the United Nations, African Union, Europe and the United States expressed regret that an agreement was not signed Monday. In a statement, the envoys said the two sides have not expressed any differences on substantive points within the draft document.

M23 said last week that it was laying down its arms, after the Congolese army seized the last of the group's strongholds in Congo's North Kivu province.

The group consists of fighters who joined the Congolese army in a 2009 peace deal but later defected after complaining of poor treatment.

Last week, officials said the sides were set to sign a peace deal that would lay out the process for demobilizing rebel fighters, with some likely to be re-integrated into the Congolese army.

M23 earlier had asked for amnesty for its leaders, while the Congolese government said it wants the leaders be returned to the DRC to stand trial. The issue was expected to be a serious stumbling block to a peace agreement. However it is not clear whether it contributed to Monday's delay.

Eastern Congo has been ravaged by years of fighting between the government and various rebel groups, who compete for control of the area's rich mines.

The Congolese army recently got the backing of a 3,000-soldier U.N. "intervention brigade," authorized to undertake offensive operations against the rebels.

Congo has accused neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23, an allegation both countries deny.

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