KAMPALA: The Democratic Republic of Congo and defeated M23 rebels are set to sign a peace deal on Monday in what diplomats hope will be a key step in efforts to end decades of war in the Great Lakes region.
The rebels, one of many armed groups operating in the mineral-rich but impoverished east of Congo, have been routed by the national army, who are backed by a 3,000-strong special United Nations (UN) intervention brigade.
Allegedly supported by neighboring Rwanda and Uganda but seemingly abandoned by their sponsors because of international pressure, the M23 announced last week that their 18-month insurgency was over. They are expected to put this in writing in Uganda on Monday.
“Our hope is that we have a firm commitment from the M23 rebels to renounce their use of arms,” said Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende.
The M23, a mainly ethnic-Tutsi force who mutinied from the Congolese army, have not confirmed Monday’s meeting. But with no more military leverage they are seen as having little room for maneuver.
The agreement is expected to settle 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 Congo.
Around 100 more injured rebels have crossed to Rwanda.
Mende said the rebels would be dealt with “case by case”—with many rank-and-file fighters expected to be given the option to return to the army.
More complicated is the fate of around 100 M23 commanders. These include M23 leader Sultani Makenga, accused of participating in several massacres, mutilations, abductions and sexual violence, sometimes against children.
“The rebels, by signing, will effectively be surrendering. From our side, even though we have won and triumphed, we will still respect what is on the table,” said Francois Muamba, a Congo delegate to the talks.
The UN’s special envoy to the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, said the accord would be “a very important step for peace.”