UNITED NATIONS – A deal set to be signed between the Democratic Republic of Congo and defeated M23 rebels is “a very important step for peace” in the war-torn Great Lakes region, the UN’s special envoy told AFP Sunday.
Mary Robinson said Monday’s deal will be followed by operations to neutralise other rebel units operating in the mineral-rich but impoverished region, providing hope to people after two decades of war marked by the loss of millions of lives as well as rape, looting, forced displacement and the recruitment of child soldiers.
She also asserted that neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, both accused of having backed the M23, were committed to a wider accord aimed at addressing the root causes of one Africa’s most brutal and longest-running wars.
“It’s a very important step for peace in the Great Lakes because it enables us now to move forward,” Robinson said in an interview during a visit to the Ethiopian capital.
The M23 rebels, one of many armed groups operating in the eastern Kivu region, suffered a resounding rout last week at the hands of the national army backed by a 22,000-strong special UN intervention force.
They are expected to sign a peace deal in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Monday, formalising a pledge to abandon their 18-month insurgency and disband.
“There is a different perception of what the government and MONUSCO together are doing in eastern Congo, but now all of the armed groups are going to be taken on,” the former Irish president said, referring to the UN mission in the country.
She described the victory over the rebels as “good for morale in the Congo”.
“It’s good now that we conclude the Kampala (agreement) tomorrow because there’s an understanding” on reintegrating M23 fighters back into the national army or allowing them to return home, she added.
She said the deal was also “new and welcome news for the people… who have tolerated or have had to endure for far too long these armed groups, with the raping and re-raping, with the displacement of people”.
“It has been intolerable, and now there really is hope,” Robinson said. “We need to see the development side, the peace dividend, (so) people can feel in their lives that things have changed.”
Robinson said the priority would now shift to defeating the Congo-based Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a descendant of Hutu extremist groups that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Neighbouring Rwanda’s minority Tutsi-led government views the FDLR as a major security threat, and had been accused by the UN of backing the M23 — made up of fellow ethnic Tutsis from across the border who mutinied from the DR Congo army — as a way of protecting its strategic interests.
Rwanda stood down as the rebels were attacked and has been silent since their defeat, something that has been attributed to massive international diplomatic pressure.
Rwanda officially denies having backed the M23, but determined action against the FDLR is now seen as crucial to ensuring that another proxy rebel force does not spring up again.
Robinson said Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni– whose country has also been accused of backing the M23 — were committed to an 11-nation regional peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa in February.
“I’ve had a lot of contact and interaction with President Museveni of Uganda, with President Kagame of Rwanda, and I must say they have a very strong commitment to the framework,” she said.
“I think there is a recognition that we need to deal with the deeper causes because underneath the rebel group M23 is real grievance of the Tutsis who don’t feel at home in their own country, the Congo.
“I am getting a very strong collective sense that they want to sort out this problem, that it’s holding this part of Africa back, not just the DRC but Africa,” Robinson added.
As for the fate of M23 leadership — many of whom have fled to Uganda — she said those accused of crimes against humanity should be brought to trial.
“I always feel that the most important thing is to get the peace and stability but then justice must take its course,” she said.
Robinson also said the DR Congo army needed to be “trained well (and) paid adequately so that they’re not stealing cattle and living off the land and people and raping.” – AFP.