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Time Running Out for Latest Round of DRC Peace Talks

A woman walk past electoral campaign posters for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Tunis, Tunisia.
Time is running out at the peace talks in Kampala between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government and the rebels of the M23 movement. Regional heads of state had asked the parties to the talks to try to reach a peace deal before the U.N. General Assembly session opens next week.

A spokesman for the Ugandan mediator said the talks have made progress, but that is not the view of the senior Congolese government negotiator, Francois Muamba.

He said “in our view, there has not been progress.” The mediator has shuttled between the two delegations, but there is not yet a complete draft proposal for a settlement of this process.

The DRC government’s position is that the rebels must lay down their arms, as the United Nations and regional heads of state have also demanded.

Muamba told VOA most, but not all of the rebels can be granted an amnesty.

The government is very clear, he said. Will there be an amnesty? Yes, for all those who are not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and pillage. But he said there will not be blanket amnesty, it will be granted on a case-by-case basis.

He added that the government is drawing up a list of those who will not be eligible for amnesty.

M23 spokesman Rene Abandi said the amnesty question and of possible integration of M23 fighters into the DRC army were not the reasons for the rebellion, and most of its fighters do not want to join the army.
The talks should be focused on other issues, he said, notably the return of Congolese refugees from Rwanda and the disarmament and demobilization of other armed groups in the Congo such as the Rwandan rebel group FDLR and the Ugandan rebel group ADF-NALU.

Call for rebels groups to disband

The regional heads of state have called for those groups, as well as M23, to be disbanded.

Abandi admitted that this cannot all happen in the next week, but said they could be working out a plan for disarmament of the FDLR and for the return of refugees.

"It is very important to at least have a plan. With which things do we begin? Securing the space (that refugees will return to)? When probably can they begin to come back? OK, the other issues are FDLR disarmament, the resettlement of refugees, the problem of land. At least we could be in Kampala solving these issues theoretically."

For the government, these issues are not real problems, they are excuses for the M23 to refuse to lay down its arms.

Muamba said the FDLR used to number tens of thousands and is now down to between 1,000 and 1,500, and the army would probably have finished them off if the M23 had not launched its rebellion.

He said the U.N. Intervention Brigade has a mandate to neutralize all the armed groups in eastern Congo, so the M23 is just raising problems to which there are already solutions.
As for the return of refugees, Muamba says the U.N. refugee agency, not the DRC government, has the leadership role.

An observer at the talks, Aaron Hall, who works for the human rights organization Enough Project, thinks negotiations have some way to go.

"I think the chances of a peace deal coming out of Kampala by the end of next week are very slim," said Hall.

Hall predicted that leaders from the Great Lakes countries and southern African states could agree at a meeting at the United Nations this month to go beyond the Kampala talks by bringing in other states in the region.

"The idea then might be to create a secondary process that is broader in scope and more inclusive of various stakeholders in the region that need to be at the table, particularly Rwanda. With the additional parties at the table these stakeholders might be able to address some of the core issues that have caused decades of conflict in the region," said Hall.

Other observers tell VOA they expect African heads of state, when they meet in New York on September 23, to press states in the Great Lakes region to disarm the M23 and other armed groups.