Kampala - The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo
and the defeated M23 rebels will on Monday sign a peace deal, Uganda said,
adding that it will not send the fleeing insurgents back across the border.
The M23 on Tuesday ended its 18-month insurgency after a
resounding defeat at the hands of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic
Since then the majority of its fighters have fled across the
border into Uganda.
"The agreement is ready and we are expecting everybody
to return Monday to sign it," Ugandan government spokesperson Ofwono
Opondo told AFP of the deal.
"The agreement will detail how each case will be
handled. There are those that are under US and UN sanctions, those who want to
be reintegrated in the army, and those who simply want to go home," Opondo
The peace talks, which started in December, had made little
headway until the DRC army started to get the upper hand militarily in recent
One of the major stumbling blocks had been the fate of
around 100 M23 officers who have taken part in a series of rebellions over the
past 15 years and that Kinshasa did not want to see reincorporated into its
Opondo said that the United Nations and the African Union,
which backed the peace process, would attend Monday's ceremony.
"They are not prisoners"
He also confirmed that the military chief of the March 23
Movement, a group formed 18 months ago, and which both Rwanda and Uganda have
been accused of backing, is on Ugandan territory.
"Yes, Sultani Makenga is with us," he told AFP,
refusing to reveal the rebel chief's whereabouts.
Uganda will not hand over M23 rebels who fled after being defeated,
the spokesman for the army and the defence ministry said.
"They are not prisoners; they are soldiers running away
from a war so we are receiving them and helping them because it is our
responsibility," Colonel Paddy Ankunda told AFP, adding that Uganda had
also welcomed fleeing soldiers from the DRC's national army earlier in the
Ugandan officers said Thursday that some 1 500 M23
insurgents had crossed over and surrendered.
"They will not be handed over to DRC," Ankunda
He said that fighters who refused to return home after the
peace agreement would be handed over to the UN refugee agency, who would screen
them and decide if they were eligible for refugee status.
"The government security forces screen the rebels when
they cross the border and ... make sure they are not mixing with civilian
refugees," Lucy Beck, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency told AFP
from southwestern Uganda, where the fleeing rebels have taken refuge.
Beck said the border area was calm Friday morning.
Insurgents' family members
At least 8 600 civilian refugees were still at the UN
transit centre, but another 1 000 were walking or hiring trucks back to DRC.
"We should have far fewer refugees in the transit
centre by the end of the day," she said. "A lot of them come from
close by and we expect a majority will return."
"UNHCR is not considering repatriation of the refugees
as it is not considered safe, even without M23," Beck went on, citing the
myriad of other armed groups operating in the east of the DRC.
She said the agency was still hosting about 20 000 civilian
refugees from DRC who fled earlier this year and that the majority of those had
fled armed groups other than the M23.
A further 95 men from the M23, all wounded, sought refuge in
neighbouring Rwanda, where they are receiving medical treatment, according to
the local Red Cross.
Analysts have cast doubt on the figure of 1 500, saying that
the entire M23 force numbered only around 1 000 men at the end of October.
They have suggested that the figure given by Uganda may
include insurgents' family members.