The Democratic Republic of Congo and M23 rebels have signed agreements to end the conflict in the east of the country. But these agreements contradict one another, says political scientist Phil Clark from SOAS in London.
DW: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the M23 rebels have signed a peace agreement under which the insurgents will demobilize and transform themselves into a political party. Members of M23 will also be granted an amnesty for acts of war, and there are provisions for the return of refugees. Kenya is already hailing this as a peace deal, but Kinshasa says there has only been a signing of unilateral declarations. Phil Clark, is this then a peace deal in everything but name?
Phil Clark: I think this is a much more complicated situation than various parties are suggesting at the moment. We don't have a single peace agreement that has been signed by all of the relevant parties. In fact, what we have are three separate agreements: one signed by the Congolese government, another signed by the M23 rebels and a third agreement signed by the Great Lakes' leaders and the Southern African Development regional body. And these three agreements contradict one another on some very important points, particularly around amnesty for the M23 rebels. So there is a great deal of confusion and a great deal of uncertainty around this process at the moment.
Where does the confusion lie as far as an amnesty is concerned?
The Congolese government, along with the UN and southern African leaders, are stipulating that it's only the lowest levels of the M23 rebels who should be open to the possibility of amnesty and that those amnesties should only be used for cases of what they're calling war and insurgency. So this would not apply to anybody who is responsible for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. But the M23 have signed a declaration which is much broader than that and would extend amnesty even to the top of the M23 command chain – and would cover almost all crimes that have been committed during the conflict. So this is a serious sticking point in this peace process.
What about reintegrating members of M23 back into the DRC armed forces? How difficult is that going to be?
That's going to be an extraordinarily difficult process. And again there's some confusion across the three agreements about this issue of demobilization. There is some suggestion that the M23 will now be forced to transform itself into a political party, and that, in fact, M23 rebels will play a very little role in the Congolese army in the future. But particularly in the M23 agreement, there is an expectation of some reintegration of its members back into the Congolese armed forces. If there is an attempt to reintegrate those combatants, that will be very difficult because many of these individuals have previously been members of the Congolese armed forces. There have been previous attempts to reintegrate these individuals and those attempts in the past are largely seen to have failed. So there are big questions about whether a new integration process would be more successful this time around.
Does M23 have a political future?
This is one of the big outstanding questions in eastern Congo: Can the M23 rebels, who have caused so much havoc, who have been responsible for very serious human rights violations, transform themselves into a political movement that would be considered legitimate amongst any members of the Congolese population in eastern Congo? I think this is a big challenge for M23 at the moment. It's going to face a great deal of skepticism and hostility when it returns to Congo. So I would imagine that its political future is extremely uncertain.
The three agreements you are referring to – do they have the makings of a peace deal, even if they can't be officially described as one?
They do have the makings of an effective peace deal, but I feel that there would need to be another round of negotiations to try and find a coherent document that would be agreeable to all of the parties.
Phil Clark is a lecturer in international politics at SOAS at London University
Interview: Mark Caldwell