Leaders to meet to sign DR Congo peace accord

Presidents from Africa's Great Lakes regional nations will meet Sunday for the latest bid to ink a deal on an accord aimed at pacifying the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has invited 11 presidents to sign the regional "peace framework agreement" -- a commitment to end the conflict, but without specific details -- at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

If successful the agreement could lead to creation of a special UN 'intervention brigade' in eastern DR Congo to combat rebel groups as well as new political efforts.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the leaders of DR Congo, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia had been invited.

The United Nations, the African Union, the 11-country International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) would act as "co-guarantors", Nesirky added.

A first attempt to get the agreement signed last month was called off at the last minute.

"All the invited presidents have committed to either attend or delegate the power to sign," a UN statement issued Friday read.

The United Nations is expected to appoint a special envoy to oversee implementation of the agreement.

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

Meetings are scheduled to begin at 0800 GMT on Sunday.

Jason Stearns, an independent analyst who follows DR Congo, earlier this month called the deal "a very vague document, still around two pages long."

The agreement, he said, focuses on three points: "preventing regional countries from interfering in each other's affairs, encouraging the reform of weak Congolese institutions and fostering greater donor coordination and engagement."

DR Congo's mineral-rich east has been ravaged by numerous armed groups for the past two decades, with new rebel movements spawned on a regular basis, some of them with backing from neighbouring countries.

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.

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 a peace accord signed on March 23, 2009.

M23 controls part of the Rutshuru region, an unstable but fertile territory that lies in mineral-rich North Kivu province and borders on Rwanda and Uganda.

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.

M23 pulled out of Goma after occupying the mining hub town for several days.

The UN has accused Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Uganda, of supporting the rebels, a charge both countries deny.

Peace talks have been held in Uganda, but so far 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.

The UN wants to toughen MONUSCO with the addition of a 2,500-strong "intervention brigade" to tackle the armed groups that have terrorised the resource-rich region.

The framework agreement however makes no explicit mention of the intervention brigade.

The new troops would be tasked with neutralising the armed groups through targeted operations against command and control structures in specific sites.

Analysts have expressed doubts as to whether troops from some of the contributing countries -- notably Tanzania, whose soldiers have seen little active service in the past decades -- are up to the task.

Rebels including M23 and the rival Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda -- a group of Rwandan Hutus based in DR Congo -- are some of the most battle-hardened fighters in the region.

Stearns also noted that "donor attention has wavered substantially since November with Syria, North Korea and Mali competing for attention."

"The framework agreement is promising," he said. "But a lot still needs to happen to make it a reality, and to overcome entrenched interests and inertia in both reforming the Congolese state and bringing an end to foreign interference."