/ 23 January 2008

DRC rebels and govt sign peace accord

Rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda signed a peace pact on Wednesday with the government and Mai Mai militia to end fighting in the east of the country.

Nkunda’s representative, Kambasu Ngeve, signed the document at a ceremony in the eastern town of Goma, which was attended by President Joseph Kabila and foreign ambassadors.

The peace accord, which includes a ceasefire, was the result of more than two weeks of negotiations at a conference in Goma, capital of eastern North Kivu province. The talks were brokered by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.

The UN and Western governments had exerted heavy diplomatic pressure for the peace deal to be signed in the hope that it will halt fighting in the east, which has raged on despite the official end of DRC’s 1998 to 2003 war.

Earlier, Nkunda gave the go-ahead for the signing of the ceasefire pact after his negotiators met him on Wednesday to clear up last-minute objections to the text.

”There were some points about which we had to talk, notably the ceasefire,” his spokesperson, Rene Abandi, said.

Kabila’s government, Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels and Mai Mai militia groups had been due to sign the North Kivu peace accord on Tuesday, but last-minute disagreements from Nkunda’s side over the draft blocked the signing.

The war’s effects and persistent violence in the east are still killing up to 1 500 Congolese a day, mostly from normally preventable diseases and malnutrition, aid workers say.

After the last-minute hitches to the signing emerged on Tuesday, Nkunda delegates from the peace conference travelled by road under UN escort on Wednesday to consult with the rebel leader near his mountain stronghold in North Kivu province. — Reuters