Updated at: 02/24/2013 9:08 AM
By KIRUBEL TADESSE
(AP) ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Eleven African countries signed a United Nations-drafted peace deal on Sunday to stabilize the troubled Central African country of Congo, where rebels allegedly backed by neighboring countries last year threatened to oust the government.
Opening the agreement-signing meeting at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said peace, security and cooperation framework for Congo would bring stability to the region.
"The signing ceremony is a significant even in itself. But it is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement. The framework before you outlines commitments and oversight mechanisms which aim at addressing key national and regional issues," Ban said in his speech.
Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic, Angola, Uganda, South Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, and the Republic of Congo signed the accord.
Congo’s neighbors collectively promised to not interfere in the internal affairs of the Congo. They also agreed to not tolerate or support armed groups. A U.N. report last year said that Rwanda and Uganda helped aid M23 rebels inside Congo. The two countries denied the allegations.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was present at the signing and said the agreement is a new opportunity for Congo.
"The framework recognizes that a holistic approach that addresses the multifaceted root causes is the only way to end instability. Any meaningful contribution toward lasting peace in the DRC and the Great Lake’s region has to abandon the self-defeating practice of selectivity in both memory and responsibility regarding the known, long standing causes of recurring conflict," said Kagame.
The U.N. says Congo suffers from persistent violence by both local and foreign armed groups that use rape as a weapon. The conflict has displaced nearly 2 million people. The U.N. said it will undertake a review of the its peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUSCO, to better help the country’s government address security challenges. Ban said he would issue a special report on Congo and the Great Lakes region in coming days.
"It will outline my proposal for a new comprehensive approach to addressing the underlying causes of the conflict in the DRC and the region, which encompasses the various components of the framework but also a strengthened political and security role for MONUSCO, including the deployment of an intervention brigade with a peace enforcement mandate. Countries of the region have committed to putting in motion to this brigade," Ban said.
South African President Jacob Zuma welcomed the proposal to send more troops to Congo. But he said Congo’s government needs to undertake "far-reaching reforms" for a lasting solution.
"A heavy burden of responsibility falls on the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbors. Theirs is the historic task of freeing the people of the DRC and the region from tortuous history of conflict and instability, and to introduce a new future offering democracy, peace, stability progress and prosperity," said Zuma.
Under the new agreement the Congolese government agreed to fast-track security sector reform, particularly within its army and police, and to consolidate state authority in eastern parts of the country. It pledged to prevent armed groups from destabilizing neighboring countries.
Congo President Joseph Kabila also vowed to advance decentralization and expand social services across the nation. The deal calls for Kabila to soon put in place a national oversight mechanism in order to oversee the implementations of the commitments. The U.N., AU, African Development Bank and other international groups have agreed to support the effort.
An agreement signing was cancelled last month at the margins of the African Union summit at the last minute, and Ban at the time blamed "procedural issues" for the delay. Ban on Sunday proposed that the leaders should meet twice a year, at the margins of the AU and U.N. summits, to review the deal’s progress.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)