Talks between Congolese officials and the M23 rebels resumed Thursday in Kampala, Uganda, after delegates from both sides agreed on the agenda.
For over six weeks the two sides had been meeting behind closed doors in the Ugandan capital Kampala, trying to reach a general consensus on a negotiating timetable. That has now been achieved.
“Both sides have agreed on an agenda," said a statement released at the end of the signing ceremony.
The statement contains four crucial points to be negotiated, the most important of which is a review of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 23 March 2009.
An uphill task ahead
The peace agreement to be reviewed was aimed at integrating the predecessors of the M23 rebels, the CNDP militia (National Congress for People's Defence) into the regular army.
As a result of the alleged failure to comply with this agreement, some officers mutinied in May 2012, deserted from the army and founded the M23 movement.
Initially there were 21 points that the M23 wanted to negotiate with the government.
These were summarized into different clusters, namely security, social and political affairs, and the implementation of the results that will be decided during the negotiations.
"We expect results that will allow us to restore peace in eastern Congo," M23 spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said before the talks began.
Regional peace efforts
Since early December, mediators from countries bordering the DRC have joined efforts to map out ways of stabilizing and ending the conflict in the eastern part of the country.
The Congolese government was initially reluctant to sit down with dissenting soldiers and it was not until November 2012, when the rebels captured the town of Goma, that the authorities in Kinshasa felt compelled to negotiate.
Goma in eastern DRC is inhabited by more than a million people and is considered to be a hub of the lucrative trade in minerals. After its fall Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who at the outset had refused to negotiate with the rebels, was left with no choice.
His faltering army was completely demoralized and unable to fight on.
But preliminary talks were difficult. "It took a long time to build trust," Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Ugandan Ministry of Defense, said in an interview with DW, "If the negotiations fail, the conflict in eastern Congo would probably escalate," he said.
The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) already agreed in August to the deployment of a "neutral force" to fight all "negative forces" in eastern Congo.
These included, among others ,rebel groups and local militias operating in different parts of the DRC other than eastern Congo, and the M23 rebels.
However, efforts to have a neutral force were hampered by a lack of general consensus on their deployment in the vast country.
It is against this background that defense ministers from the ICGLR and SADC were due to meet in Kampala on Friday in order to negotiate the issue of a peacekeeping force from within the region.
Tanzania recently agreed to send several thousand troops to eastern Congo.
In addition to the regional initiative, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has also committed itself to provide logistical support.
This neutral force will operate under the African Union mandate but as part of the UN Stabilization Mission in Congo MONUSCO.
The UN currently has more than 19,000 peacekeepers deployed in different parts of the DRC.