KINSHASA, Mar 26 – A new peace deal in Democratic Republic of Congo meets key demands of Tutsi rebels who started fighting six years ago for political recognition and claimed their minority was violently threatened.,
Signed Monday between the government and the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), the agreement also marks the latest progress since January, when senior rebel members abandoned their leader Laurent Nkunda.
"They have finally managed to get to a large degree what they have demanded through arms these last few years," a UN source said of the rebels, who will be given an amnesty for laying down their arms in the east of the country.
Under the accord inked in the Nord-Kivu provincial capital, Goma, the CNDP will become a political party and the government will free captured rebels and pass the amnesty law.
"We haven’t gotten everything we asked for but we are satisfied," the CNDP’s new president Desire Kamanzi told AFP.
"Our prisoners will be liberated and soon granted amnesty, the displaced and refugees will be able to return home and, in 15 days, we will be legally registered as a political party."
The former rebels also want to discuss with the government a "fair sharing of power, locally and nationally," Kamanzi added, acknowledging the subject was not part of peace negotiations mediated by former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo.
Under renegade Tutsi ex-general Nkunda, the CNDP began its uprising in 2003 in the hills of eastern Nord-Kivu province.
Fierce fighting erupted last year and the CNDP made major advances. At one point their forces reached the gates of the Nord-Kivu capital Goma.
Overall unrest in neighbouring Nord- and Sud-Kivu provinces, fed by a number of rebel forces and militia groups, has killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The CNDP’s turnaround began in January, when top rebel commanders switched allegiance from Nkunda to the government.
The Tutsi leader was arrested in Rwanda later in the month — just days after Kigali and Kinshasa launched a joint operation in eastern DR Congo against Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of a hand in the 1994 genocide that mainly targetted Rwandan Tutsis.
In early February, the new CNDP leadership announced in a statement it was transforming into a political party and asked for amnesty.
The rebels also said they wanted to pursue negotiations begun with the Congolese government in Nairobi, so long as both sides did so in "good faith."
The Kinshasa media, which has traditionally viewed the rebels as pawns of Kigali partly to fight the Rwandan Hutu rebels, has saluted the peace deal — but with a dose of prudence.
"To sign an accord is fine, but to uphold what’s achieved in the accord is better, (because) every deal contains a trap," the daily Le Potentiel wrote.
The UN peacekeeping mission MUNOC has also emphasised the importance of translating paper into action.
There is a "need to go quickly to execute this agreement in order to profit from the dynamic it has created," the mission’s chief Alain Doss said in a statement.
If the agreement is respected, he added, it could have "an extremely positive impact on the lives of the populations of both Kivus."