Congo blames Uganda for failure of peace accord with M23 rebels

The Congolese government delegation has quit Ugandan-hosted talks with M23 rebels, saying Kampala's support for insurgents was to blame for the failure to sign a document that was to officially end Congo's latest rebellion.

Agreement was to be signed Monday and would have officially ended rebellion in east

Suspected M23 rebel fighters sit in a group after surrendering to the Congolese army in Chanzo village near the eastern town of Goma earlier this month. The rebels gave up their 20-month-long insurgency and retreated to Uganda after losing key strongholds to the UN-backed Congolese forces. M23 representatives and the Congolese government were to sign a peace accord on Monday that would have put an official end to the fighting, but the government backed out at the last minute because of a disagreement over wording. It accused Uganda of blocking the inclusion of wording committing the rebels to not taking up arms again. (Kenny Katombe/Reuters)

The Congolese government delegation has quit Ugandan-hosted talks with M23 rebels, saying Kampala's support for the insurgents was to blame for the failure to sign a document that was to officially end Congo's latest rebellion.

Okello Oryem, Uganda's junior foreign affairs minister, did not immediately comment on the accusations but said he expected it would take a few more days before any deal could be signed to end the most serious Congolese uprising in a decade.

Congo's accusations against Uganda show the deep mistrust in the region, a barrier standing in the way of long-term peace despite the defeat of the M23's 20-month insurgency by Congo's United Nations-backed army.

Government wants commitment to abandon arms

Congolese and rebel negotiators failed to agree on the wording of the document meant to cap the army's swift military gains that led to M23 last week abandoning its uprising in Congo's mineral-rich border zone with Rwanda and Uganda.

Some of the M23 fighters who surrendered to Uganda's government are seen inside an enclosure at Rugwerero village, about 500 km west from Uganda's capital, Kampala. Congo has accused Uganda of backing the rebels and undermining peace negotiations. (JamesAkena/Reuters)

"What are we supposed to sign? No country in history has signed an agreement with a movement that has declared its own dissolution," said Lambert Mende, a spokesman for Democratic Republic of Congo's government.

Mende said Kinshasa wants the rebels to pledge not to take up arms again but Uganda was blocking this.

"Uganda seems now to be acting as part of the conflict. It has interests in M23."

Uganda and Rwanda have both been accused by UN experts of backing M23, which has led the latest in a series of uprisings led by Congolese Tutsi fighters in the east, an area rich in gold, diamonds and other minerals. Both countries deny the charges.

Western powers want political deal

Bertrand Bisimwa, political head of the M23, was not immediately available for comment. Sultani Makenga, its military chief, is being held by Uganda after he abandoned the rebels' last hill-top positions with hundreds of fighters.

Despite the demise of M23, a plethora of other rebel groups operate in eastern Congo, which is also riddled with conflicts over land, ethnicity and access to resources.

Congolese president Joseph Kabila, who will be seeking re-election in 2016, is keen to capitalize politically on his recent victory over the M23 rebels. (Stan Honda/Pool/Associated Press)

Envoys from the United Nations, European Union, African Union and United States had gathered in Uganda to witness the signing. After it fell through, they insisted on further talks to secure a political deal to accompany M23's military defeat.

"The envoys urge the parties to resolve the differences relating to the format of the document and to remain committed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict," they said.

Uganda's lead mediator, Defence Minister Chrispus Kiyonga, said both sides had concluded negotiations over the 11-point document on Nov. 3, two days before the rebels announced they were laying down their arms.

A second source close to the peace talks said the Kinshasa and M23 delegations had both initialed each page.

1st major victory over rebels

The accord will address issues such as amnesty — for the act of rebellion, though not for crimes against humanity. That will almost certainly mean no amnesty for Makenga.

It is also expected to tackle some of the root causes of the unrest, including the return of stolen property and issues surrounding the return of Tutsi refugees to Congo.

Congolese army soldiers march into Kibumba town after recapturing it from M23 rebels at the end of October in eastern Congo. The government forces' defeat of the rebels is the first significant victory against a major insurgency in a country that has numerous uprisings in the past two decades. (Joseph Kay/Associated Press)

Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, is keen to capitalize politically on his army's victory, the first over a major rebellion in the distant, lawless east.

A Ugandan source close to the mediation said this was made clear during talks.

"The Kinshasa people don't even want to sit in the same room with M23 team," the source said. "They want to sit in separate rooms because (they feel) they are not equals."

However, Christoph Wille, an Africa analyst at Control Risks, said Kabila was unlikely to completely back out of talks as a deal would boost his mandate at a time when he is looking toward 2016, when his second and final term is due to end.