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UN says Congo peace talks stalled again

Monday - 10/21/2013, 7:30pm  ET

EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- High-level peace talks to end fighting in eastern Congo have stalled because of disagreements over amnesty, disarmament, integration and security arrangements for the M23 rebels, U.N. envoys said Monday.

Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy for the Great Lakes region of central Africa, told the Security Council that Congolese and M23 negotiators reached agreement on eight of 12 articles in a draft peace agreement and "have agreed to reconvene soon in order to overcome their differences."

Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative for Congo, expressed disappointment that after four days and nights of negotiations a comprehensive deal wasn't reached -- despite pressure from five international envoys -- but he said "I consider that the remaining gaps can be bridged."

He said the objective remains to conclude a peace agreement to end the rebellion, disband the M23 and transform it into "a political movement" under Congo's constitution and laws.

Kobler said it was especially regrettable that this objective couldn't be reached because "considerable progress" was made on amnesty for the rebels and security arrangements. He urged the M23 "to move constructively and without delay to sort out in the next few days the remaining issues."

The M23 fighters are made up of Congolese soldiers, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, who deserted the national army last year after accusing the government of failing to honor the terms of a deal signed in March 2009.

The talks in the Ugandan capital, Kampala have repeatedly stalled amid sporadic clashes between Congolese forces and M23 rebels in eastern Congo.

Kobler told the Security Council that regardless of progress in the talks, "the situation on the ground remains volatile and of great concern."

In recent days, he said the U.N. peacekeeping force observed "a considerable military build-up" around the key city of Goma and areas held by the M23. Rebel fighters also fired twice at unarmed U.N. helicopters and strengthened offensive positions threatening U.N. peacekeepers, he said.

Chrispus Kiyonga, the Ugandan government minister who is mediating the talks, said he believed a final accord would soon be reached but he gave no details.

On Saturday, M23 said in a statement that a peace deal was likely to be signed "in the coming hours."

But Lawrence Kanyuka, M23's deputy head of communications, said negotiators for the government walked out of a meeting Sunday night, saying they wanted M23 to expel Roger Lumbala for insulting Congo's President Joseph Kabila months ago in Burundi.

Lumbala is the deputy head of M23's negotiators in Uganda, which has been mediating the talks under the banner of a regional bloc. The latest negotiations were bolstered by the presence of Robinson, Kobler, and envoys from the African Union, the United States and the European Union.

Robinson said the "alarming reports" of a military build-up near Goma and in M23 areas "highlighted the urgency of reaching a political agreement to prevent a return to hostilities and the escalation of tensions in the region."

She said the parties reached consensus on the release of prisoners; the end of M23 as a rebel movement and its possible establishment as a political party; the return and resettlement of refugees and displaced people; looted property during M23's occupation of Goma last November; establishment of a national reconciliation commission; reforms of the government and economy; and implementation of a 2009 peace agreement and the agreement under discussion.

Robinson urged the parties to remain committed "to a swift conclusion" of a peace deal and said the five envoys will help achieve that goal.

___

Rodney Muhumuza contributed to this report from Kampala, Uganda and Saleh Mwanamilongo from Kinshasa, Congo.


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