November 11, 2013

The signing of a document that was supposed to mark the end of peace talks between DR Congo’s government and the defeated M23 rebels was postponed indefinitely on Monday in Entebbe, Uganda, over a disagreement on its wording and title.

Uganda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Henry Oryem Okello suggested that Congolese officials had balked at signing a “peace deal” that had been agreed upon and had instead “asked for more time” to consider the document.

DR Congo’s Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda said that the wording and the title of the document was important because the situation on the ground had changed.

The “Kampala peace talks” between DR Congo and the M23 rebels have gone on for nearly a year. But last week the Congolese army recaptured all territories once occupied by the rebels after the peace talks broke down again two weeks earlier.

The Congolese government then said it would no longer sign a “peace deal” with the M23 rebels, but would sign a document marking the end of the rebellion.

Uganda’s Defense Minister and chief mediator Cyprus Kyonga said on Monday he was still optimistic that an agreement could be reached.

“We need time to consult with each party,… there are issues of fine-tuning language and some words,” Mr. Kyonga said.

Congolese authorities have always faced strong opposition at home against signing a “peace deal” with the M23 rebels.

Signing a “peace deal” would even make less sense now that the Congolese army, backed by UN peacekeepers, has dislodged the rebels from all the territory they occupied for more than a year in North Kivu province.

Congolese authorities have also not forgotten that the M23 rebels claimed that the government had failed to abide by an earlier peace deal signed on March 23, 2009, as a pretext to launch their rebellion last year.

After defeating the rebels militarily, why give them the opportunity to later use yet another “peace deal” as a pretext to launch a new rebellion?

But Ugandan officials have been pushing for a deal as if the situation on the ground had remained the same as it was three weeks ago, when the M23 rebels still controlled large swathes of land, and refused then to sign a peace deal if rebels who had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity were not granted a complete amnesty.

Some Congolese analysts have always called into question the impartiality of the Ugandan government. Uganda and Rwanda have been accused by the United Nations and rights groups of supporting the M23 rebels.

Ugandan officials claimed last week that close to 1,700 rebels had fled into their territory, a number disputed by officials in North Kivu province, who put the number at a couple of hundreds at most.

Ugandan officials have also said that the fugitive rebels will be disarmed but will not be handed over to Congolese authorities, including M23 military commander Sultani Makenga, who is wanted by DR Congo’s government and is under U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

The U.N. and African Union-brokered Addis Ababa Framework Agreement, signed in February by 11 countries to tackle the conflict in eastern Congo, calls on neighboring countries to “neither harbor nor provide protection of any kind to persons accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, acts of genocide or crimes of aggression, or persons falling under the UN sanctions regime.”