Entebbe - Talks over a peace deal between the Democratic
Republic of Congo and defeated M23 rebels have failed, in a setback to
international efforts to stabilise the African nation's conflict-prone east.
The peace negotiations failed after Kinshasa demanded
changes to the agreement, officials said.
The "DRC delegation has aborted the signing of
agreement with M23", Ugandan government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said on
Monday, adding that their meeting in Uganda was adjourned without a new date
The M23 rebels, one of many armed groups operating in the
mineral-rich but impoverished east of the DRC, have been routed by the national
army, who are backed by a 3 000-strong special UN intervention brigade.
Seemingly abandoned by their sponsors due to international
pressure, the M23 announced last week that their 18-month insurgency was over.
Despite the failure of the talks, DRC Foreign Affairs
Minister Raymond Tshibanda said Kinshasa was committed to peace.
"We have been engaged in this process for several
months now... We have encountered some difficulties over issues important to
us, and we think that these difficulties can be removed before finalising the
process," he said.
The failure to sign a deal will disappoint many, with the UN
special envoy to the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, telling AFP that signing the
accord would be "a very important step for peace".
A joint statement released by Robinson and Martin Kobler,
the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in the DRC, voiced regret
that Kampala Dialogue had not been concluded but noted that the parties
involved "expressed no differences on substantive points within the draft
"An agreement will be reached"
The statement, also signed by African Union and EU
officials, urged all involved to resolve their differences and “remain
committed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict".
The signatories emphasised that any solution must allow the
pursuit of war criminals.
Delegations from both Kinshasa's government and the rebels
arrived on Monday evening at Uganda's State House in Entebbe, a town close to
Kampala on the shores of Lake Victoria, where the rebels had been expected to
formalise the end of their rebellion in writing.
International observers, including from the United Nations
and African Union, as well as from Belgium, Britain, France and Norway, also
turned up to witness the deal, Opondo said.
With Kinshasa stalling, it is not immediately certain what
will happen next. But Ugandan Defence Minister and chief mediator Crispus
Kiyonga said he remained optimistic.
"We have a problem on our hands in eastern DRC which
everybody has agreed needs a political solution... so, I think, an agreement
will be reached," Kiyonga said.
"We need time to consult with each party, we can't
arbitrarily calculate the time now," he added.
The M23, a mainly ethnic Tutsi force of mutineers from the
Congolese army, have no military leverage left and little room for manoeuvre.
There was no immediate reaction from the rebels.
Lack of deal a disappointment
A key outstanding issue is the fate of about 1 500 M23
fighters who have crossed into Uganda and are languishing in camps along the
border. Uganda has refused to hand them over to the DRC.
Around 100 more injured rebels have crossed to Rwanda.
Kinshasa had said earlier the rebels would be dealt with
"case by case". Many rank-and-file fighters were expected to be given
the option to return to the Congolese army.
More complicated is the fate of some 100 M23 commanders.
These include M23 leader Sultani Makenga, accused of participating in several
massacres, mutilations, abductions and carrying out sexual violence, sometimes
After defeating M23, she said operations would follow to
neutralise other rebel groups in a concerted effort to end one of Africa's most
brutal and longest-running wars.
But even if a deal is signed, stabilising eastern DRC will
not be easy. Previous peace deals for the region have foundered because they
were not implemented or did not address underlying problems.
Oxfam on Monday warned the "conflict is far from
over", noting over 30 other armed groups operate in the region and
civilians risk violence on a daily basis.
Robinson said she believed Rwandan President Paul Kagame and
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni - who deny backing the M23 - were committed
to an 11-nation regional peace agreement signed in February.
She said the priority would now shift to defeating the DRC-based
Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a descendant of Hutu
extremist groups that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Rwanda's minority Tutsi-led government views the FDLR as a
major security threat. Dealing with the group is seen as crucial to addressing
the neighbouring country's concerns and preventing the emergence of yet another