DRC peace agreement to be signed February 24: UN

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will attend a signing ceremony next week in Addis Ababa for an accord aimed at pacifying the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, his spokesman said on Sunday.

Mr Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told AFP that invitations for the ceremony went out on Friday.

"He intends to be at the event on Feb 24 in Addis Ababa. All the invited presidents have committed to either be there or delegate power to sign," he said.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Congo, South Africa and Tanzania are expected to sign the framework agreement, after refusing to do so at an African Union summit in Addis last month.

UN officials have said that the disagreement had not been over the content of the agreement, but over procedural concerns.

Back-to-back wars ravaged Eastern DR Congo from 1996 to 2003. The region is home to a complex web of rebel groups and militias battling for its mineral wealth.

The security plan would toughen the existing UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo with a 2,500-strong "intervention brigade" to tackle the "March 23 Movement" - an insurgency that the United Nations says is backed by Rwanda and Uganda, which they deny.

The troops will be charged with tackling all armed groups that have terrorized the resource-rich region over the past 15 years, and with neutralising the threat of the armed groups through targeted operations against command and control structures in specific sites.

The DRC's mineral-rich east has long been caught up in strife among local and foreign armed groups. Since May, the army has been fighting the insurgency.

The M23 was founded by former fighters of an ethnic-Tutsi rebel group whose members were integrated into the regular army under a peace deal whose terms they claim were never fully delivered. The group's main demand now is the full implementation of the March 23, 2009 accord.

The M23 controls part of the Rutshuru region, an unstable territory rich in minerals and agricultural produce that borders on Rwanda and Uganda. The M23 briefly seized the key city of Goma in November.

Several of its leaders have been hit by UN sanctions over alleged atrocities. The group has been accused of raping women and girls, using child soldiers and killing civilians.

The latest cycle of unrest in eastern DR Congo erupted last year when the rebels seized Goma, a mining hub, before pulling out 12 days later. Peace talks have been held in Uganda, but have made little headway.

The peacekeeping mission already deployed in DR Congo, MONUSCO, is one of the UN's biggest. It currently has about 17,000 troops and, under its Security Council mandate, is allowed to have up to 19,800.

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