Congo, M23 rebels peace signing delayed over wording of pact

ENTEBBE, Uganda (Reuters) – A ceremony to formally end Congo’s bloodiest conflict in a decade was delayed yesterday by an 11th-hour spat between the government and M23 rebels over whether the document should be entitled a peace agreement or a vaguer declaration.

M23 gave up their 20-month insurgency last week after the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army, backed by a UN force, routed them from their last hilltop hideouts along the eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda.

Other rebels still roam the vast country and stability remains a distant prospect in a region with rich underground deposits of gold, diamonds and other precious minerals.

The deal between the Kinshasa government and M23 was due to be signed in the Ugandan city of Entebbe at 6 pm (1500 GMT) but was suddenly delayed, with no one knowing whether the hold-up would last for hours or days.

“The stumbling point is the parties cannot agree on whether they are signing a peace agreement or a declaration. They agree on the content, but not the title. The Congolese government says it came here to sign a declaration,” Uganda’s junior foreign affairs minister, Okello Oryem, told Reuters.

Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said “there’s no deal tonight”, but could not say when it would happen.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said Kinshasa was willing to sign a document but not one called a peace deal. “It’s as if M23 still exists, it’s as if it is legitimating them despite them being a negative force,” he said.

“We are ready to sign a declaration of engagement between the government and former members of the rebel group known as M23,” he said in Kinshasa. Bertrand Bisimwa, the head of the M23 political wing, declined to comment.

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