African leaders wrapped up talks in Pretoria saying a peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo could be signed if the M23 movement declared an end to its rebellion.
“The joint summit noted that all the 11 issues under discussion in the Kampala dialogue had been agreed upon and that the parties would sign an agreement on condition that the M23 makes a public declaration renouncing rebellion,” said Stergomena Tax, executive secretary of the 15-country Southern African Development Community (SADC) late Monday.
The M23 movement had entered peace talks with Kinshasa held in the Ugandan capital Kampala, but they fell apart last month, leading the Congolese army to launch an offensive against the rebels. The M23 was founded by ethnic Tutsi former rebels who had been incorporated into the army under a 2009 peace deal but mutinied in April 2012.
The joint summit between SADC and some of DR Congo’s neighbours also commended the Congolese army and the UN intervention brigade “for recapturing M23 strongholds and restoring government control”, Tax said.
The 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade in eastern DR Congo is drawn from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania. It joined 17,000 peacekeepers already deployed in the country, but it carries a special mission to help Congo’s army quell the rebellions in the region.
On Monday, the brigade carried out what is believed to be its first direct combat against M23 rebels since the Congolese army began a major assault against the rebellion in late October and seized control of all of the M23 strongholds.
The army is now pursuing die-hard rebels holed up in the lush, hilly region bordering Uganda.
“Important initiatives are being undertaken… and buttressed by the United Nations framework for peace and security in the DRC and the Great Lakes to reach a political resolution to the fundamental causes of instability in the region,” said South African President Jacob Zuma in his opening remarks.
“Additionally the UN intervention brigade has now been fully deployed with the mandate to restore stability to the east of the DRC.”
Presidents from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe were among those at the Pretoria meeting.
The United Nations regularly accuses neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda of covertly supporting the rebels, a claim they deny.
Rwandan leader Paul Kagame skipped Monday’s summit, but Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni was present and said the latest outbreak of fighting was unexpected.
“The recent fighting took me by surprise,” he said.
On Tuesday, South Africa is hosting a separate summit to talk about the formation of an African stand-by force to be deployed during crises.