Entebbe (Uganda): The Democratic Republic of Congo and defeated M23 rebels have failed to sign a peace deal hoped to be a key step in stabilising the conflict-prone east after Kinshasa demanded the agreement be revised.
The "DRC delegation has aborted the signing of agreement with M23," Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said yesterday, adding that the meeting was adjourned without a new date scheduled.
The M23 rebels, one of many armed groups operating in the mineral-rich but impoverished east of the DR Congo, have been routed by the national army, who are backed by a 3,000-strong special UN intervention brigade.
But DR Congo Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Tshibanda said Kinshasa was committed to peace.
"We have been engaged in this process for several months now... We have encountered some difficulties over issues important to us, and we think that these difficulties can be removed before finalising the process," he said.
Allegedly supported by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda but seemingly abandoned by their sponsors due to international pressure, the M23 announced last week that their 18-month insurgency was over.
Delegations from both Kinshasa`s government and the rebels arrived yesterday evening at Uganda`s State House in Entebbe, a town close to Kampala on the shores of Lake Victoria, where the rebels had been expected to formalise the end of their rebellion in writing.
International observers, including from the United Nations and African Union, as well as from Belgium, Britain, France and Norway, also turned up to witness the deal, Opondo said.
With Kinshasa stalling, it is not immediately certain what will happen next. But Ugandan Defence Minister and chief mediator Crispus Kiyonga said he remained optimistic.
"We have a problem on our hands in eastern DRC which everybody has agreed needs a political solution... So, I think, an agreement will be reached," Kiyonga said.
"We need time to consult with each party, we can`t arbitrarily calculate the time now... There are issues of fine-tuning language and some words," he added.
The M23, a mainly ethnic Tutsi force of mutineers from the Congolese army, have no military leverage left and little room for manoeuvre.
There was no immediate reaction from the rebels.