A milestone on the road to peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been reached with the signing of an agreement this week beween the Congolese government and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Signatories to the agreement also included other armed groups in North and South Kivu.
Among the major provisions of the pact is one that compels the CNDP to become a political party in the DRC and give up use of its armed force as a policy tool. It had been previously announced that CNDP fighters were to be integrated into the Congolese army, the FARDC. Both these solutions have been used previously by Kabila’s government with other armed groups, particularly during the election of 2006. The result was a coalition government and an army noted for its lack of direction and discipline. Still, hope springs eternal.
The agreement also calls for the DRC government to grant amnesty to former rebel fighters who joined the CNDP after 2003. Hundreds of CNDP soliders who have been captured are to be released.
Fighting last fall between the government and the rebels, then led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda, displaced hundreds of thousands in the eastern DRC. Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda earlier this year and the CNDP came under new military leadership. Nkunda is currently under house arrest in Rwanda but no announcement has been made about his possible extraditiion to Congo, which has charged him with war crimes.
International and regional cooperation minister Raymond Tshibanda signed the agreement for the Congolese government, while new CNDP chief Desire Kamanzi signed for the rebels, at a ceremony in the city of Goma. Goma was nearly captured by the CNDP during last fall’s campaign. Also present were Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who in recent months acted as a mediator between the two sides, and Alan Doss, head of the UN mission to the DRC.
While the peace agreement was being signed, fighting continues in the Kivus between the FARDC and the FDLR, the Hutu group that was the supposed object of CNDP operations. Since the Rwandan army withdrew from the DRC, FDLR units have returned to areas they previously controlled in an effort to win them back with the same tactics of terror rape, pillage, and murder of civilians they’ve used for years.