Congo to sign peace deal with rebels on March 15 - draft

KINSHASA Mon Mar 11, 2013 11:04am GMT

M23 rebel fighters guard the venue of a news conference in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo January 3, 2013. REUTERS/James Akena

M23 rebel fighters guard the venue of a news conference in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo January 3, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/James Akena

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KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's government is due to sign a peace deal on March 15 with the M23 rebels who have been waging an insurgency in the east for the past year, according to a draft agreement seen by Reuters on Monday.

The draft says rebel fighters will hand in their weapons ahead of a deployment of United Nations peacekeepers in their territory, and those not facing prosecution will be integrated into the army. Congo's government will, in turn, speed up the return of ethnic Tutsi refugees from Rwanda, it added.

The deal seeks to end recurrent conflicts in Congo's mineral-rich east, where local politics, ethnic rivalries and tensions with neighbouring Rwanda have simmered for nearly two decades.

Talks in Uganda to end the M23 rebellion, in which rebels briefly seized the town of Goma last year in a major embarrassment to both the government and U.N. peacekeepers, had faltered.

But rebel infighting in recent weeks appears to have led to a breakthrough, with fighters under Sultani Makenga sidelining those loyal to rival commander Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said the document seen by Reuters was a "working document" and confirmed the March 15 deadline for talks to end.

However, Bertrand Bisimwa, the head of M23's political wing, told Reuters he was not aware of the document, and said further talks were needed before any agreement could be signed.

(Reporting by Chrispin Mvano in Goma and Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa; Writing by David Lewis)

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