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New commitments take Congo a step closer to peace

September 24, 2013

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Congo’s neighbors pledged Monday not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries in the region as part of commitments to implement a peace agreement signed earlier this year.

The new commitments, or benchmarks, mark progress for a nation that has been wracked by conflict, particularly in its eastern region, that has killed thousands and led to massive displacement of people fleeing the violence.

Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, told reporters after Monday’s meeting with representatives from 10 countries and two regional organizations that there’s “a lot of work to do now to implement these commitments.” She did not spell out all the provisions.

The Congo conflict is a spillover from the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Hundreds of Hutus who participated in the mass slaughter escaped into Congo and still fight there.

Most of the current fighting is between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army.

But the pledge against interfering with the internal affairs of another country is significant because the international community, bolstered by several reports by the U.N. Group of Experts, has accused Rwanda of backing the M23 and using it as a proxy force to secure access to eastern Congo’s lucrative mining trade.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who convened the meeting with African Union Commission head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said he deplored the recent military activities of the M23 and other armed groups and called the extent of violence and human suffering in eastern Congo “overwhelming”

“Resources are not keeping up with needs,” he said. Ban urged additional funds to help those in need “but more than that, we end the recurring violence by dealing with the root causes of the conflict.”

Robinson called it a “very positive day for the region” noting that at the end of the meeting she saw Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Joseph Kabila “talking to each other in a very friendly way.”

The M23 is primarily made up of fighters from a now-defunct rebel group that signed a peace agreement with Congo on March 23, 2009. The deal paved the way for the rebels to join the regular Congolese military. For the next three years Congo enjoyed a relative period of calm in its troubled and lawless eastern province.

However many defected in 2012, claiming Congo had not held up its end of the bargain by failing to implement the signed agreement. Rebels invaded and briefly held the key city of Goma before retreating to positions just outside.

Peace talks between the Congolese government and M23 fighters, which had repeatedly stalled, have resumed in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

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