News / Africa

    DRC Official Blames Uganda for Breakdown of M23 Agreement

    Congolese M23 rebel fighters gather inside an enclosure after surrendering to Uganda's government at Rugwerero village in Kisoro district, 489km (293 miles) west from Uganda capital Kampala, Nov. 8, 2013.
    Congolese M23 rebel fighters gather inside an enclosure after surrendering to Uganda's government at Rugwerero village in Kisoro district, 489km (293 miles) west from Uganda capital Kampala, Nov. 8, 2013.
    VOA News
    A Congolese official is blaming neighboring Uganda for the breakdown of an expected peace agreement with M23 rebels, which both sides were due to sign at a ceremony Monday.

    Information Minister Lambert Mende said Tuesday that Uganda, which has mediated talks between the DRC and M23, was seemingly acting like a part of the conflict.

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

    Mende also said the Congolese government opposes signing a designated peace deal with M23 rebels because the group has already declared an end to its fight in
    DRC.

    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."

    Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo told VOA that Congolese delegates refused to enter the room where the signing ceremony was to have taken place Monday, and asked for more time to read through the agreement.

    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.

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