AFP - A pro-government militia Saturday said it was ceasing hostilities with the main rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a day after renegade militants in the split outfit announced a truce.
Leaders of the Pareco faction of the Mai-Mai militia said the decision followed the announcement by rebels led by Bosco Ntaganda, chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), that they would stop fighting.
"After having noted the declaration of the ending of the war by the CNDP and considering that any military action by us hereafter is pointless, we Museveni Sendugu, chief of Pareco and Colonel Mugabo Baguma" announce "the end of hostilities as of January 17," a statement said.
The CNDP dissidents on Friday made the surprise announcement in Goma, the capital of the violence-wracked Nord-Kivu province, after a meeting with Interior Minister Celestin Mbuyu and Congolese and Rwandan army chiefs.
The CNDP has been hit by a leadership crisis since Ntaganda announced on January 5 that renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, had been ousted for "poor leadership".
Nkunda, in turn, has said that Ntaganda was "no longer in a position to issue orders to the army of the CNDP".
The rebel faction still loyal to Nkunda was not immediately available for comment on Friday's announcement.
A Western diplomat said the rebel announcement was a "major step" and "signalled a real schism in the heart of the CNDP" and added that some embassies "have finally understood that they have to pressure Kigali", capital of neighbouring Rwanda.
According to experts however the declaration does not automatically herald an end to the fighting in eastern Congo, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced after fighting flared between the CNDP and government forces in August, sparking a humanitarian crisis.
The dissidents said in their statement that the CNDP and the army would remove all roadblocks so that people could move freely within Nord-Kivu and displaced people could return to their homes.
The renegade rebels also said they were immediately putting "all CNDP combat forces at the disposal" of the army "for their integration into the" force.
They also asked the government to "speed up the promulgation of the amnesty law covering acts of insurrection in the war" in accordance with a past accord. Ntaganda's faction added it was "ready" to join the fight against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a group of Rwandan Hutu rebels who have operated in eastern Congo since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, causing a great deal of tension between Kinshasa and Kigali.
The announcement came after talks in Nairobi between the CNDP and the Congolese government were suspended without a formal ceasefire agreement. The two sides were scheduled to meet again on January 25.
A source in the UN mission in Congo, MONUC, said renegade rebel leader Ntaganda -- who faces an international arrest warrant for allegedly using child soldiers -- had "clearly obtained guarantees that he will not be handed over" to the International Criminal Court based in The Hague.