Rugwerero: (Uganda): The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the defeated M23 rebels will Monday sign a peace deal, Kinshasa and Kampala said, with Uganda adding it will not send the fleeing insurgents back across the border.
The March 23 Movement (M23) on Tuesday ended its 18-month insurgency after a resounding defeat at the hands of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Since then the majority of its fighters have fled across the border into Uganda.
“The agreement is ready and we are expecting everybody to return Monday to sign it,” Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo told AFP of the deal.
“The signature will take place on Monday,” DRC Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Tshibanda N’Tunga Mulongo said while on a visit to Paris.
The M23 have not confirmed Monday’s meeting but with no more military power as leverage they have little choice in the matter.
People at Chanzu Hill, north of regional capital Goma, on November 5, 2013 following their release after being held by M23 rebels
“The agreement will detail how each case will be handled. There are those that are under US and UN sanctions, those who want to be reintegrated in the army, and those who simply want to go home,” Opondo said.
The peace talks, which started in December, had made little headway until the DRC army started to get the upper hand militarily in recent weeks.
One of the major stumbling blocks had been the fate of around 100 M23 officers who have taken part in a series of rebellions over the past 15 years and that Kinshasa did not want to see reincorporated into its army.
Opondo said that the United Nations and the African Union, which backed the peace process, would attend Monday’s ceremony.
Uganda says it will not hand over rebels
Colonel Sultani Makenga (3rd left), head of the rebel M23 group, walks on a hill in Bunagana, a town near the Ugandan border
He also confirmed that the military chief of the M23, a group formed 18 months ago, and which both Rwanda and Uganda have been accused of backing, is on Ugandan territory.
“Yes, Sultani Makenga is with us,” he told AFP, refusing to reveal the rebel chief’s whereabouts.
Uganda will not hand over M23 rebels who fled after being defeated, the spokesman for the army and the defence ministry said.
“They are not prisoners; they are soldiers running away from a war so we are receiving them and helping them because it is our responsibility,” Colonel Paddy Ankunda told AFP, adding that Uganda had also welcomed fleeing soldiers from the DRC’s national army earlier in the year.
Ugandan officers said Thursday that some 1,500 M23 insurgents had crossed over and surrendered.
“They will not be handed over to DRC,” Ankunda said.
In Rugwerero village in the Uganda’s southwestern Kisoro district the men and some women from the M23, disarmed but still in uniform, were washing their clothes in a compound belonging to Uganda’s wildlife authority, an AFP photographer said.
He said the fleeing fighters were calm until they saw some Tanzanian and South African officers from the UN brigade arriving and started throwing stones at them.
Ankunda said that fighters who refused to return home after the peace agreement would be handed over to the UN refugee agency, who would screen them and decide if they were eligible for refugee status.
“The government security forces screen the rebels when they cross the border and … make sure they are not mixing with civilian refugees,” Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency told AFP from southwestern Uganda, where the fleeing rebels have taken refuge.
Civilian refugees had started leaving a UN transit camp to head back home, she said.
“UNHCR is not considering repatriation of the refugees as it is not considered safe, even without M23,” Beck went on, citing the myriad of other armed groups operating in the east of the DR Congo.
She said the agency was still hosting some 20,000 civilian refugees from DR Congo who fled earlier this year and that the majority of those had fled armed groups other than the M23.
A further 95 men from the M23, all wounded, sought refuge in neighbouring Rwanda, where they are receiving medical treatment, according to the local Red Cross.
Analysts have cast doubt on the figure of 1,500, saying that the entire M23 force numbered only around 1,000 men at the end of October.
They have suggested that the figure given by Uganda may include insurgents’ family members.
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