African leaders sign deal to end eastern Congo conflict

ADDIS ABABA Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:31pm IST

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A U.N .-mediated peace deal aimed at ending two decades of conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo was signed on Sunday by leaders of Africa's Great Lakes region in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

African leaders failed to sign the deal last month after a disagreement over who would command a new regional force that will be deployed in eastern Congo and take on armed groups operating in the region.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's army is fighting the M23 rebels, who have hived off a fiefdom in eastern Congo's North Kivu province in a conflict has dragged Congo's eastern region back into war and displaced an estimated half a million people.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and leaders from Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Republic and South Sudan were present at the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes.

Rwanda and Uganda had been accused by U.N. experts of supporting the rebels, an accusation they denied.

"It is my hope that the framework will lead to an era of peace and stability for the peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region," Ban said.

Congo's government and the rebels are holding talks in Uganda aimed reaching an agreement on a range of economic, political and security issues dividing the two sides, including amnesty for "war and insurgency acts", the release of political prisoners and reparation of damages due to the war.

"We ... commit ourselves to respect our obligations of this agreement we signed today, and we wish that all the signatories do the same," Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila said.

The rebels, who launched their offensive after accusing Kabila of reneging on the terms of a March 2009 peace agreement, have broadened their goals to include the removal of Kabila and "liberation" of the entire Congo.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by George Obulutsa)

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