DRC peace talks collapse after row over key M23 negotiator

The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo will have to wait a bit longer for a peace deal that carries hopes of a life free of conflict after talks between the government of the DRC and rebel group M23 collapsed on Sunday night in Kampala. 

With eight out of 11 points of agreement already sealed, rebels blamed President Joseph Kabila's team of intentionally delaying the conclusion of the peace deal by finding an unreasonable excuse.

M23 spokesperson Lawrence Kingston told the Mail & Guardian that the DRC government team refused to sign unless the rebel group removed its deputy negotiation chief, Roger Lumbala. "They never had a problem with him from the beginning and only now they say that," said Kingston. "The political willingness of the DRC government to peace talks is not there. They can't pick and choose our team because they don't like someone."

Kingston said Kabila's government team accused Lumbala of threatening to kill the president when they met in Burundi a few months ago – a claim made for the first time on Sunday night. "We told them there's no question about that. He's [Lumbala] part of us."

Last year Lumbala sought refuge at the South African embassy in Burundi and asked South Africa to help him get to France because he feared arrest by Congolese authorities for high treason.

A former opposition MP before he joined M23, Lumbala fought on the same side as Kabila's late father Laurent Desire Kabila against dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. He later turned against the senior Kabila.

Lumbala has also backed main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who spent years of self-imposed exile in South Africa while failing on several occasions to unseat Kabila at the polls.

Though the parties have already agreed on amnesty for M23 fighters, another key point of disagreement is the DRC government's plan to arrest 130 rebels and resistance from Kabila's government to integrate M23 rebels into the Congolese army, the FARDC.

Kingston said Kabila's negotiating team produced the warrants of arrest this weekend. "If one wants peace why do you still want to arrest the opponents? If we agree to amnesty it means the arrest warrants should not be effective," said Kingston.

M23 has expressed frustration at what it calls an "uneven negotiating ground" said Kingston. "All we do every single day is defend ourselves in these talks. If they want war they must say this is what we want."

While mediators wait for the parties to return to the negotiating table, sporadic attacks continue in and around M23 strongholds in eastern DRC, with both the FARDC and M23 blaming each other. In recent days, there has been a visible military build-up by both government army and the rebels, raising fears of an all-out refreshed fighting.

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Mmanaledi Mataboge
Guest Author

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