Joseph Kabila (left), the president of Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right)The presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have agreed to back an international force tasked with eradicating armed rebels in the eastern Congo.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, along with other leaders from the Great Lakes region, signed the accord on Sunday that foresees the creation of a neutral international military force to combat rebels in the eastern Congolese provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu, Reuters reported.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who also attended the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, said the atmosphere between Kabila and Kagame was “excellent, amicable.”
Congo and Rwanda, which have fought armed conflicts in the past, have repeatedly exchanged accusations concerning the support of rebel groups in each other’s territory.
“There was no fighting,” Museveni joked to reporters.
Earlier, Kabila and Kagame held a rare face-to-face meeting for over 1 and a half hours and endorsed an agreement hammered out at a meeting on July 10 by the foreign ministers of the 11-nation International Conference of the Great Lakes Region.
The agreement called for the Great Lakes leaders to work with the African Union and the United Nations “for an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) and all other negative forces in eastern DRC, and patrol and secure the border zones.”
The meeting was also attended by the defense ministers of both DR Congo and Rwanda.
The rebels currently fighting in the eastern Congo, known as the March 23 movement (M23), defected from the Congolese army in April in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
The mutiny is being led by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on a charge of recruiting child soldiers.
Since early May, as many as 200,000 civilians have fled their homes. Most of them have resettled inside Congo, but tens of thousands have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on for over a decade and left over 5.5 million people dead.