Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo: AP Photo/ Elias Asmare)
Eleven nations in Africa’s Great Lakes region gathered over the weekend to sign a pact aimed at stemming rebel violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Leaders and representatives from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia gathered at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to sign the agreement.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also on hand for the negotiations and the international body said the "peace framework agreement" agreed to by the countries could lead to the deployment of a special U.N. intervention force in the Eastern region of the DRC to combat rebel groups.
Since April 2012 DRC has been dogged by the presence of the M23 rebels, a rebel group composed mostly of former Army members who seek to take control of the country. In their quest for power, the M23 has staked its claim to several areas in DRC’s mineral-rich East, where new rebel movements crop up regularly, some with backing from neighboring countries.
While the agreement was largely hailed, Alex Queval, head of the U.N. mission in the beleaguered Congolese province of North Kivu, urged patience with the peace process, predicting a long road ahead.
"I think it would be wrong to have too great expectations because the situation here is very difficult," Queval told Al Jazeera. "The conflict has been going on for at least 19 years, so it's not going to be solved overnight, but I definitely think that this approach can be a new beginning."
Queval’s hesitance for celebration was almost immediately justified late Sunday as clashes between rebels erupted in Rutshuru, a gold-producing region in Noth Kivu.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department chimed in on the matter, applauding the step toward peace but also urging the signatories not to drag their heels.
"The continuing security and humanitarian crisis in Eastern DRC highlights the urgent need for accelerated reforms within the DRC and increased cooperation among key countries in the Great Lakes region, particularly the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda," said the State Department statement. “The United States urges the signatories to quickly establish concrete follow-up mechanisms for implementing the framework at the national and regional level.”
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