Rebels in the DRC loyal to General Laurent Nkunda signed a peace pact on Wednesday with the government and Mai Mai militia to end fighting in the east of the country.
The movement of rebel former general Laurent Nkunda and other groups on Wednesday signed an "act of engagement" for an immediate ceasefire in eastern DR Congo's Kivu provinces.
Kambasu Ngeze, team chief for Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), was the first of successive envoys from armed groups to sign the text at a podium in Goma on the last day of a peace conference that began on January 6.
President Joseph Kabila was present for the closing ceremony as delegates from other armed movements took their turn to sign the landmark text providing for an immediate ceasefire and gradual troop withdrawals.
The document, presented by top conference officials to the warring sides on Monday in draft form, is the first public and official peace settlement for the two Kivu provinces, ravaged by conflict since the end of a war that raged across the whole Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998-2003.
National television, in live coverage of the event attended by hundreds of delegates from Nord- and Sud-Kivu, called the signing ceremony a "historic moment" in the history of a nation riven by strife since 1996 after the ouster that year of autocratic ruler Mobutu Sese Seko by the president's father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001.
If successful in the goals reinforced by main "recommendations" of the Goma conference, the act of engagement will mark the end of violence that has swept both Kivu provinces, where more than a million people have been driven from their homes, particularly in the north.
Since August last year, though a truce was called for the duration of the conference, Nord-Kivu has seen incessant clashes between the DR Congo army, which has sent in 25,000 men, and Nkunda's forces, estimated by observers in the UN mission in the DR Congo, at about 4,000.
The conflict has also embroiled warriors from different tribes who have formed local Mai Mai, and an estimated 6,000 Hutu rebels from neighbouring Rwanda, whom Nkunda regards as his main foes.
Sud-Kivu has seen upheavals caused by by clashes among the army, Congolese Tutsi dissidents, and Mai Mai forces.
In both provinces, villagers live in fear of uniformed men and aid agencies, relief workers and rights groups have all reported widespread violations and atrocities, particularly the rape of women by both local and foreign fighters.
Date created : 2008-01-23