Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- M23 rebels may sign a peace accord with Democratic Republic of Congo’s government in the Ugandan capital Kampala “in the coming hours,” a rebel leader said.
“The M23 has made major concessions on its political grievances in order to make possible the signing of the peace agreement in Kampala in the coming hours,” according to an e- mailed statement from rebel leader Bertrand Bisimwa. It didn’t provide further details.
The two sides may sign a document today outlining “the conclusions of discussions,” Congolese Media Minister Lambert Mende said by phone from Kinshasa, Congo’s capital. He declined to give further details.
M23 rebels deserted Congo’s armed forces last year, saying the government hadn’t respected a 2009 peace agreement that saw them integrated into the force. The rebels held the eastern trading hub of Goma for 11 days in November last year before withdrawing under international pressure to begin peace talks.
Heavy fighting resumed in August, with a new United Nations intervention force offering support to Congolese troops. The UN has about 19,000 peacekeepers in Congo, which has struggled to prevent conflict in its eastern region that began nearly two decades ago.
M23’s officer ranks are dominated by ethnic-Tutsis, and over the years the group has demanded more protection for minority groups and the return of tens of thousands of Tutsi refugees living in neighboring Rwanda. Congo says M23 is backed by Rwanda, whose government is also dominated by Tutsis. Rwanda denies the charges.
The UN and advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch say the rebels may have committed war crimes by using child soldiers, raping civilians, and committing arbitrary executions. They’ve also been involved in mineral smuggling, according to the UN. Eastern Congo is rich in tin ore, gold, and coltan.
Bosco Ntaganda, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court, led the group until March, when he turned himself into the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. He is now awaiting trial in The Hague.
On Aug. 30, M23 announced it was withdrawing from the frontlines after more than a week of bombardment by the army and UN peacekeepers. UN special envoy, Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, is in Kampala overseeing the peace talks with representatives from regional organizations including the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region.
--Editors: Shaji Mathew, James Amott