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Mon Nov 24 23:34:01 SAST 2014

Thumbs up for DRC peace deal

Sapa-AFP | 25 February, 2013 00:36
A U.N. armoured vehicle is seen at a barrier at the entrance to the closed airport in Goma November 22, 2012.
Image by: JAMES AKENA / REUTERS

Regional African leaders signed a deal yesterday aimed at bringing peace and stability to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo after years of unrest.

Eleven countries in the Great Lakes region, including those accused of stoking trouble by backing rebel groups, signed the accord at a ceremony in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in the presence of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

The DRC's mineral-rich east has been ravaged by conflict involving numerous armed groups for the past two decades, with new rebel movements spawned on a regular basis.

"It is my hope that the framework will lead to an era of peace and stability for the people of the DRC and the region," said Ban.

But, he added, "It is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement."

The presidents of the DRC, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania were present for the signing, along with envoys from Uganda, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Zambia.

The accord calls for countries in the region to refrain from interfering in each other's affairs and encourages the reform of weak institutions in the DRC, central Africa's biggest country.

It could lead to the creation of a special UN "intervention brigade" in eastern DRC to combat rebel groups, as well as new political stability efforts.

The latest surge in violence was last year and culminated in the rebel March 23 (M23) movement briefly seizing the key town of Goma in November.

"It shows that the right course of action is still being taken and that, based on this, there are opportunities and avenues which will be open for our common action for the peace and security of the DRC and for the region," the AU's commissioner for peace and security, Ramtane Lamamra, said at yesterday's peace deal signing.

The pact calls on regional actors "to neither tolerate nor provide assistance or support of any kind to armed groups".

It also sets out a plan for the "appointment of a UN special envoy to support efforts to reach durable solutions in a multi-track plan that allows the convergence of all the initiatives in progress".

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose country is accused of backing the M23 rebels, said he wanted to see "peace, security and stability emerge".

"Today's agreement is an important step and opportunity in reaffirming our commitment to regional peace. I unreservedly welcome it," he said.

"Nothing would be of greater benefit to Rwanda than real progress towards regional peace and stability," Kagame said.

Neighbouring states, including not only Rwanda and Burundi but also Uganda, have regularly been accused of meddling in the region, with the illegal extraction of its valuable minerals as one of their motivations.

A first attempt to get the peace agreement signed last month on the sidelines of the AU summit was called off at the last minute.

The DRC is the biggest and most populous country in central Africa and has enormous but largely untapped mineral wealth, including copper, oil, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc and uranium.

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