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Congo And M23 Rebels Make Peace But Region Still Unstable

posted 11 Nov 2013, 12:04 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 11 Nov 2013, 12:05 ]

The defeat of Democratic Republic of Congo's most important rebel group has strengthened President Joseph Kabila's grip on political power, but bringing peace to his vast central African nation remains a remote prospect.

KINSHASA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (NOVEMBER 11, 2013) (REUTERS) -  The defeat of Democratic Republic of Congo's most important rebel group has strengthened President Joseph Kabila's grip on political power, but bringing peace to his vast central African nation remains a remote prospect.

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The peace agreement which was supposed to be signed in EntebbeUganda on Monday (November 11) and aimed at ending the Democratic Republic of Congo's most serious conflict in a decade remains in balance as the two parties can't agree on the wording of the title.

According to an Ugandan minister, the parties can't agree on whether they are signing a peace agreement or a declaration.

The peace deal aims to draw a line under the 20-month rebellion, the most serious conflict in Congo since a major war ended in 2003.

But with or without the peace deal, in Kinshasa the victory over the rebels also caps a dramatic turnaround for the 42-year-old president, whose reputation was in tatters just a year ago, accused by the opposition of rigging a 2011 election and humiliated by M23's capture of Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.

Billboards have sprung up around the city of eight million people praising the army and Kabila's efforts to heal the nation, which has been racked by conflict since his father Laurent toppled strong man Mobuto Sese Sekou in 1997, ending his 32-year rule.

"Thank you, Kabila," sang thousands of women dressed in white who marched through the centre of the sprawling riverside capital Kinshasa last week, celebrating the army offensive that routed the M23 rebels in Congo's distant east.

Some local analysts say that despite the fact that Congolese people united behind their president to achieve this victory, Kabila wouldn't be able to claim it for himself.

"To say today that the end of the war gives force and power to Kabila is a false assumption, this war was won thanks to the national unity. This war was won thanks to the victory of the Congolese people who rallied behind their chief of state like a single being, rallied behind their army which has been so criticised here. An army which has been called many names. We are dealing here with the unity of all these people who rallied behind their army and behind their chief of state. No one person can claim this victory, it's thanks to the national unity," said political analyst Emmanuel Bandi.

The boost to Kabila's reputation comes amid speculation he may change the constitution to run for a third term in 2016. Last month he announced the formation of a national unity government, pulling apart the fragmented opposition.

Some now hope the defeat of M23 could be a first step toward ending two decades of conflict ineastern Congo fuelled by ethnic tensions and rivalry for control of rich deposits of gold, cassiterite and coltan, in which millions of people died.

Kabila has overhauled the command structure of the notoriously ill-disciplined army since Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, fell to M23 a year ago.

"I think it's the discipline which has to be imposed in each country, starting with the change in mentality, and avoiding what we call the reward of the war or the rebellion. Because every time people take up arms, go to war or mutiny, or organise themselves in groups of rebels, and tomorrow you will see them transformed into a political party, a party where each has their own powerful chair, then two chairs and so on until more come, and others are encouraged by it. Now we should stop this culture of impunity and go towards the application of justice," said Kinshasa universityprofessor Tshilombo Toussain

The rebel occupation of the city of one million people also shocked Western powers into taking a more active role in Congo, turning the tide of the conflict.

The United Nations deployed a new 3,000-strong Intervention Brigade with a mandate to hunt down armed groups, in a break from normal peacekeeping. Its South African Rooivalk attack helicopters played a role in taking M23's hilltop strongholds.

Crucially, concerted diplomatic pressure ensured Rwanda - which has repeatedly backed Tutsi-led rebellions in eastern Congo - did not support M23 as government troops advanced, potentially removing a key factor in long-term unrest.

"Diplomatic relations with our neighbours are very important. We didn't choose these neighbours, God made that we have neighbours like RwandaUganda and others. We should make all possible efforts to get on no matter what issues arise. But you see, in order to get on you need to start dialogue, and talk about serious problems, first of all at a subregional level, then at the U.N. Security Council, so that we can achieve a long lasting peace, and mutual respect," said Bandi.

Many are sceptical, however, that Congo has the capacity to impose order outside areas likeKinshasa and Katanga.

Since independence from Belgium in 1960, the country's vast size and poor infrastructure have made it almost impossible to govern. There are just 2,000 km of paved road in a nation the size ofWestern Europe, and no route from Kinshasa to the east.

A 19,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission is attempting to fill the void left by the Congolese state in the east, where an alphabet-soup of armed groups compete over land, politics, ethnicity and minerals. There are more than 40 armed groups in the Kivus alone, meaning M23's defeat will not end lawlessness there.

M23 is just the latest incarnation of Tutsi frustration in eastern Congo. It took up arms last year saying Congo broke a 2009 deal ending a previous Tutsi uprising against Kinshasa, which it accused of backing the FDLR Hutu militants.

Despite the breakdown of the peace deal on Monday, Bandi still hopes things will turn out for the better. He says Rwanda and Uganda can't leave in peace without Congo.

"The Congo has always been the central nervous system of the big lakes. If Congo is ill I think that Rwandans can't boast today and be at peace, and Uganda even less so. So Congo is the central nervous system which has to bring long lasting peace in the sub-region. As long as there is no peace in Congo there's no peace elsewhere, that's why we should spend all our efforts so that peace can last in Congo and the sub-region. It's in everybody's interest."

The deal between the Kinshasa government and M23 was due to be signed in the Ugandan city ofEntebbe at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Monday but suddenly delayed, with no one knowing whether the hold-up would last for hours or days.