Congo peace talks stall, government rejects amnesty proposal

Pete Jones
(Blank Headline Received)
Rena Abandi (2nd L), the head of the M23 rebels peace talks delegation, leads his team into the final leg of negotiations with the Congolese government to end the rebellion in eastern Congo, in Kampala October 19, 2013. REUTERS/James Akena

By Pete Jones

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Talks to end a two-year-old insurgency in eastern Congo stalled on Monday after the government rejected calls for an amnesty for leaders of the M23 rebel movement, despite weekend statements suggesting a deal was close.

President Joseph Kabila's government said it was strongly opposed to a blanket pardon for the commanders of the Tutsi-led rebellion and to reintegrating their fighters into the national army.

M23 accused the government delegation of refusing to cooperate with its chief negotiator at the talks in neighbouring Uganda and of seeking a return to hostilities.

The deployment of a 3,000-strong U.N. Intervention Brigade with a mandate for offensive military operations has raised government hopes it could beat the rebels militarily.

"There is total disagreement on the general and unconditional amnesty proposed by the Ugandan facilitator, which is absolutely opposed to our position," Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said.

"M23 are now insisting on unconditional amnesty and reintegration, having earlier said they weren't interested in integration at all. They keep changing their position," Mende said.

The rebellion's roots lie in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where Hutu troops and gangs killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

M23 launched in early 2012 when soldiers mutinied, accusing Kinshasa of failing to implement a 2009 peace deal from an earlier Rwandan-backed rebellion. U.N. investigators have accused Rwanda of supporting M23, a charge Kigali denies.

The movement is the most powerful armed group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where a host of militias battle each other and government forces over land, ethnicity and control of natural resources.

In November, M23 captured the biggest city in eastern Congo, Goma, before withdrawing to pave the way for negotiations in the Ugandan capital Kampala. Those talks have repeatedly stalled, leading to renewed violence in August.

On Saturday, M23 unexpectedly announced that a deal was close. Shortly afterwards, a government source told Reuters that he hoped for a negotiated resolution within days.

Axel Queval, interim head of the Goma office of the U.N. mission in Congo (MONUSCO), said that despite advances in recent days, there remained five outstanding points, including the question of the amnesty and reintegration of rebel troops.

Queval said MONUSCO could resort to military force if talks broke down. The deployment of the Intervention Brigade, created by the Security Council this year, helped government forces to push the rebels back from Goma in August.

An M23 spokesman said the government was disrupting the talks because it preferred a return to hostilities.

"Integration into the army is not an issue, we don't want to integrate anyway. We want to discuss a resolution to the insecurity in the east," Amani Kabasha said by telephone.