UN chief to attend Congo peace signing

UNITED NATIONS: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sent out invitations to a signing ceremony later this month for the large-scale peace agreement aimed at ending the fighting in Congo, the United Nations said Saturday.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the U.N. chief will attend the Feb. 24 event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The peace agreement had been expected to be signed at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Jan. 28 but was delayed over what Ban called “procedural issues” and not over any fundamental differences in the agreement.

Nesirky said the agreement has been circulated to 11 countries including Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, South Africa, Angola, Tanzania and Mozambique.

The peace deal is an effort at a large-scale political framework to end violence in Congo. Separate talks are taking place in Uganda between the rebel group known as M23 and Congolese officials.

Jean Baptiste Rudaseswa, a lawyer for M23, has said the plan could further destabilize Congo.

Mineral-rich eastern Congo has been engulfed in fighting since the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The United Nations has more than 17,700 U.N. peacekeepers and over 1,400 international police in Congo, but they did little to protect civilians as M23 rebels swept through eastern Congo last year and seized the key city of Goma.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said earlier this month that there is growing agreement on the need to create an “intervention brigade,” which would be part of the U.N. force, and give it a mandate to rein in, neutralize and disarm rebel groups in the east.

Ladsous said the agreement will spell out what Congo must do to reform the security sector and army and reassert its authority in the east. It will also include commitments by countries of the region to respect each other’s sovereignty and cooperate to address the underlying causes of the recurring violence in the east, including the presence of numerous armed groups.