Nations from Africa’s Great Lakes Region have signed a peace deal aimed at bringing stability to Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-torn east. The deal may establish a rapid intervention force for the region.
Leaders from 11 African countries on Sunday signed the peace deal at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in a bid to end nearly two decades of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“It is my hope that the framework will lead to an era of peace and stability for people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region,” said UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who attended the signing ceremony in Addis Ababa.
"It is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement," he said.
The peace agreement was signed by leaders of DR Congo, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Efforts to finalize the peace deal last month had failed over disagreements about who would lead a regional UN rapid intervention force, which aims to deter and contain militant groups in DR Congo's volatile eastern provinces.
The UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo, MONUSCO, already has around 17,000 troops deployed in the vast country. The rapid reaction force would increase that number by 2,500, should it be successfully established.
DR Congo has been ravaged by war since the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, in which ethnic Hutu nationalists launched pogroms against minority ethnic Tutsis, slaughtering some 800,000 people. After relative order returned to Rwanda, DR Congo's east became a battleground for both Hutu and Tutsi militant groups.
Instability stemming from the Rwandan genocide precipitated the First and Second Congo Wars, which involved eight African nations and claimed the lives of some 5.4 million people, the deadliest conflict in the continent's history.
A new round of violence exploded in March 2012, when a group of disaffected ethnic Tutsi Congolese soldiers formed the militia group M23 and mutinied against DR Congo's government.
M23 seized control of much of the Rutshuru region in DR Congo's eastern resource-rich North Kivu province. The group even managed to capture the regional capital, Goma, before withdrawing under international pressure.
slk/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)