Congolese rebels have said they expect to sign a peace deal with the government by the end of February that would end their ten-month revolt.
The M23 rebels have carved out a fiefdom in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province that has dragged Congo’s eastern region back into war and displaced an estimated 500,000 people.
Bertrand Bisimwa, a spokesperson for the rebels and a participant in the talks, said negotiations with the government have already covered substantial ground.
“We still have a lot of business to cover, but if we keep this speed I think it’s possible by end of February we’ll have finished talks and signed an agreement,” Bisimwa told the Reuters news agency in Kampala. “We’re satisfied with the speed of negotiations.”
But Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the government, was less optimistic.
“We were hoping to have things finished by the end of February but M23 have made lots of capricious extra demands, which is slowing down the process,” Mende said.
‘Happy with the progress’
The Kampala talks aim to bring the rebels and Kinshasa closer on a wide range of economic, political and security issues dividing the two sides, including amnesty for “war and insurgency acts,” the release of political prisoners and reparation of damages due to the war.
The M23 rebels, who launched their offensive after accusing president Joseph Kabila of reneging on the terms of a March 2009 peace agreement, have since broadened their goals to include removal of Kabila and “liberation” of the entire Congo.
“We have to get through these quickly, as we have much more important things to discuss,” Mende said, but added: “One can say we’re happy with the progress.”
The rebels agreed to the peace talks in December after an international conference pressured them into pulling back from North Kivu’s capital, Goma.
M23 has come under additional pressure after reports that UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon will recommend to the Security Council that peacekeepers be deployed in eastern DRC.
Foreign powers fear the conflict in eastern Congo could trigger another regional war in a borderlands zone that has suffered nearly two decades of turmoil.
Successive cross-border conflicts have killed and uprooted millions in the Congo basin since the colonial era, driven by political and ethnic divisions and competition for vast mineral resources.
Independent UN experts say the M23 insurgency receives cross-border support from Rwanda and Uganda, which both governments strongly deny.