ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — A large-scale peace agreement to end fighting in Congo that would see more peacekeeping forces enter the region was delayed Monday over what the United Nations chief called "procedural issues."
A signing ceremony scheduled for Monday at the African Union summit in Ethiopia was canceled. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, however, there are no fundamental differences holding back the agreement.
"This is a broader political and security framework whereby the country, particularly (Congo), will be committed to certain policies regarding the situation," Ban said, adding that other regional countries will also commit to support.
"To cope with the threat posed by armed groups in the eastern part of the country, we plan to create a peace enforcement force in the mission," said Ban.
The agreement had been circulated to eight countries: Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, South Africa, Angola and Tanzania, he said.
The peace deal is an effort at a large-scale political framework to end violence in Congo. Separate talks are taking place in Uganda between the rebel group known as M23 and Congolese officials.
Jean Baptiste Rudaseswa, a lawyer for M23, said he was happy the U.N. plan has so far failed because he said it risked destabilizing Congo further.
"Our biggest concern is the deployment of a so-called neutral international force to wipe out M23 and other negative forces, as they say," he said.
Ban is seeking additional resources to strengthen the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo with "intervention" troops with a more robust mandate to protect civilians from armed groups in Congo's vast eastern region.
U.N. diplomats said Ban is expected to send a report to the council with specific recommendations for additional troops — possibly totaling as many as 2,500 — that would actively intervene, for example, to prevent another takeover of the key eastern city of Goma.
The Security Council wants to beef up the U.N. peacekeeping force known as MONUSCO, which has more than 17,700 U.N. peacekeepers and over 1,400 international police, following last year's takeover of many villages and towns in eastern Congo by M23 rebels who briefly held Goma before withdrawing in early December. The force — the largest of the U.N.'s 15 far-flung peacekeeping operations — did little to protect the tens of thousands of civilians, many of whom fled their homes.
Rudaseswa said Ban's plan would lead to more violence, because then groups like M23 would have to defend themselves in action.
A senior Ugandan diplomat who has been involved in regional efforts to end violence in eastern Congo said the U.N. peace plan seemed unlikely to win the unconditional support of some regional leaders. The diplomat said he believed an African-led peace effort is more likely to succeed.
The official said there is not yet any agreement among regional leaders and the U.N. over who would control a new force to intervene in eastern Congo. The Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc, has already offered to send about 4,000 troops to eastern Congo .
The official, who insisted on anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly while negotiations were still taking place, said a U.N. push to introduce drones into the region has also been met with resistance.
Ban did not specify any time frame when further negotiations on the deal will take place.
Muhumuza reported from Kampala, Uganda. Associated Press writer Peter Spielmann contributed from the United Nations in New York.