Addis Ababa - Regional African leaders signed a deal on Sunday aimed at bringing peace and stability to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo after years of unrest.
Eleven countries in the Great Lakes region Ä including those accused of stoking trouble by backing rebel groups Ä signed on to the accord at a ceremony in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in the presence of UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
DR Congo's mineral-rich east has been ravaged by conflict involving numerous armed groups for the past two decades, with new rebel movements spawned on a regular basis.
“It is my hope that that the framework will lead to an era of peace and stability for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region,” said Ban.
But he added: “It is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement.”
The presidents of the DR Congo, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania were present for the signing, along with envoys from Uganda, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Zambia.
The accord calls for regional countries to refrain from interfering in each other's affairs and aims to encourage the reform of weak institutions in the DRC, central Africa's largest country.
It could also lead to creation of a special UN “intervention brigade” in eastern DR Congo to combat rebel groups as well as new political efforts.
The latest surge in violence was in 2012 and culminated in the rebel March 23 movement (M23) force briefly seizing the key town of Goma last November.
“It shows that the right course of action is still being taken and that based on this there are opportunities and avenues which will be open for our common action for the peace and security of DRC and in the region,” AU's commissioner for peace and security Ramtane Lamamra said at Sunday's signing.
The pact calls on regional actors “to neither tolerate nor provide assistance or support of any kind to armed groups.”
It also sets out a plan for the “appointment of an United Nations Special Envoy to support efforts to reach durable solutions in a multi-track plan that allows the convergence of all initiatives in progress.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose country is accused of backing the M23 rebels, said he wanted to see “peace, security and stability emerge”.
“Today's agreement is an important step and opportunity in reaffirming our commitment to regional peace. I unreservedly welcome it, he said.
“Nothing would be of greater benefit to Rwanda than real progress towards regional peace and stability,” Kagame added.
Neighbouring states, including not only Rwanda and Burundi but also Uganda, have regularly been accused of meddling in the region, with the illegal extraction of its valuable minerals as one of their motivations.
A first attempt to get the peace agreement signed last month on the sidelines of the African Union summit was called off at the last minute.
The DR Congo is the biggest and most populous country in central Africa and has enormous but largely untapped potential mineral weath including copper, oil, diamonds, gold, silver, zince and uranium. - Sapa-AFP