Congo signs peace deal with M23 rebels

The deal apparently concludes the most serious rebellion in Congo in a decade.

The deal apparently concludes the most serious rebellion in Congo in a decade. Picture: AFP/ISAAC KASAMANI

NAIROBI - The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government signed a peace deal on Thursday with the M23 rebels it had been fighting until they laid down their arms last month, ending weeks of wrangling over the terms of an agreement.

The deal apparently concludes the most serious rebellion in Congo in a decade but analysts say the region remains fragile, not least because the agreement does not address the status of other armed groups.

The M23 is the latest incarnation of the Tutsi-led insurgents who have battled Congo's government in its mineral-rich eastern region since 1996, in an evolving conflict that has caused the deaths of millions from violence, hunger and disease.

"Today the DRC government and M23 have respectively signed declarations reflecting the consensus reached during the Kampala Dialogue on steps necessary to end the armed activities of the M23," said a joint communiqué.

Two declarations were signed which together comprise 11 points agreed on by the parties, said the communiqué, signed by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Joyce Banda of Malawi.

These include a decision by the M23 to end the rebellion and transform itself into a political party, an amnesty to M23 members only for acts of war or insurgency and the demobilisation of former M23 members.

It included agreement on the release of those held by Congo for war or rebellion and called for the return of those displaced by fighting. It also called for the formation of a committee to handle property and land that was confiscated, stolen or destroyed.

"The document is very clear: there is no blanket amnesty. Those who are presumed to have committed criminal behaviour in terms of international law, war crimes or crimes against humanity will not be reinserted into society," said Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende.

"There will be justice, and no blind amnesty. Whether justice is done here in Congo or in the Hague, it does not matter," he said, adding that the deal was signed at State House in Nairobi.

There was no immediate comment from former M23 rebels.

"We have been conducting some talks to try to conclude the dialogue between the two parties [M23 and Kinshasa] and I am informed this evening the final document was signed in Nairobi," James Mugume, Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary.

Thursday's communique signalled the end of peace talks held under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community region.