Last-minute shift could jeopardize Congo peace talks
Gen. Laurent Nkunda's rebel group says Congo's move to invite 20 other rebel groups could scupper bilateral talks that began Monday.
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The talks are an attempt to resurrect a peace agreement signed by Nkunda's militia, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and 21 other rebel groups on Jan. 23 of this year. Under the peace deal, the CNDP and other groups agreed to disarm and reintegrate into the Congolese Army under the condition that the Congolese government address the various rebel grievances.Skip to next paragraph
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For the CNDP, the main grievance is the continued presence of a Hutu-led rebel group comprised mostly of fighters who carried out the genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda in 1994. The CNDP, manned primarily by ethnic Tutsis of Congolese origin, sees this rebel group as an existential threat, and says the Congolese Army has done too little to push them out of Congo.
The Congolese government of President Joseph Kabila, argues that it can only deal with external threats after it has disarmed, integrated, or neutralized internal armed groups, and UN peacekeepers have found themselves in the position of helping the weak and corrupt Congolese government bring peace to the region.
On arrival in Nairobi, Congolese foreign minister Alex Thambwe Mwamba raised hopes for a peaceful settlement. "We are convinced that since we started this process of direct bilateral contact [with Nkunda's militia], things have started to move forward," he told Kenyan television. "They are moving slowly, that's for sure, but they are advancing toward the end of the war...."
But CNDP foreign affairs spokesman Rene Abandi warned that the talks could be canceled if the government brings along other rebel groups. "We cannot allow discussions with 20 other militias," Mr. Abandi told the Reuters news agency. "Otherwise we would stay at home. We have not made this journey for nothing."
Analyst David Monyae calls the Nairobi talks a "golden opportunity" to bring peace to Congo's mineral-rich east region, but also an important moment for the international community to reverse a trend of awarding aggression.
"The question is how to rehabilitate [Nkunda] in a way that doesn't cause more trouble," says Mr. Monyae, a professor of international relations at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. "On the continent in general, and in Congo in particular, there is a problem of impunity. The more people you kill, the more you are taken seriously. The more you abide by agreements, the more you are seen as insignificant."