Recent military advances by U.N.-backed Congolese troops in crushing a 20-month rebellion in the east are a major step, but it is too soon to say if the M23 rebels are on the brink of defeat, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
Russ Feingold, U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa, said a peace deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and rebels from the M23 group may be reached as soon as this weekend.
But he cautioned that a peace pact would not end the decades of instability in the region until the root causes of the conflict, including ethnic tensions, are resolved.
“There is every reason to believe that the parties are getting ready to finalize the agreement,” the former U.S. senator said.
“It may have happened even without this fighting because we have made a lot of progress, but clearly the M23 is in a tougher position at this point,” he said, adding, “It may well be that this weekend at least an initial signing and initialling will occur and perhaps disbanding of the M23 is imminent.”
Millions of people have died from violence, disease and hunger since the 1990s as foreign-backed ethnic rebel groups have fought for control of eastern Congo’s rich deposits of gold, diamonds and tin.
Congolese troops were hunting rebels deep in the forests and mountains along the border with Rwanda and Uganda on Thursday after the insurgents fled their stronghold in the eastern border town of Bunagana.
Peace talks between the government and M23 rebels resumed in Uganda on Wednesday after falling apart last week, just as the Congolese army was gaining more ground, supported by a beefed-up U.N. intervention brigade.