GOMA, DR Congo (AFP) — The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tutsi rebels in the east of the country signed a peace deal Monday under which the rebel movement is to change into a political party.
International and Regional Cooperation Minister Raymond Tshibanda signed the agreement for the government and the new National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) chief Desire Kamanzi for the rebels at a ceremony in the eastern city of Goma witnessed by an AFP correspondent.
The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, provides for the transformation of the CNDP into a political party and the release of former members of the rebel group captured by government forces.
The deal provides for the CNDP "to agree to transform itself into a political party and fulfil the formalities legally required to this end" and for it "to undertake to pursue from now on the search for solutions to its concerns by strictly political paths and in the respect of institutional order and the order of the republic".
The government has also agreed to pass an amnesty law for former rebels, says the accord.
Present at the ceremony were Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who in recent months acted as a mediator between the two sides, and Alan Doss, the head of the UN mission in DR Congo.
Goma is the regional capital of the Nord-Kivu region, which in 2008 was the scene of fierce clashes between the army and the rebels in which the CNDP made major advances. At one point their forces had reached the gates of Goma itself.
The CNDP was previously led by renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda and began its uprising in the Kivu hills in June 2003. But in January of this year its leadership went over to Kinshasa's side.
The two sides also agreed on "the principle of a local police force, understood as a branch of the Congolese national police, listening to the people and at their service".
Obasanjo congratulated the signatories for showing "the culture of peace and not that of violence".
Since the defection of the CNDP leadership and the arrest of Nkunda in Rwanda in January the situation in Nord-Kivu has stabilised. But problems posed by another rebel group remain.
A joint operation by the Rwandan and Congolese military over five weeks in January and February drove Rwandan Hutu rebels belonging to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) to the west and north of the province while failing to end the threat from them.
Renewed attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels in Nord-Kivu have forced nearly 30,000 people to flee their homes in recent weeks, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.
The UN last week condemned both the army and rebels for atrocities against local civilians in territories under their control, while the local population has blamed UN peacekeepers for not doing enough to stem the violence.
While the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) is the UN's largest peacekeeping operation, with 17,000 soldiers, fewer than half are stationed in the country's restive Nord-Kivu province.
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