Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Some Good News from Africa?

The Congolese government and insurgent leader, Laurent Nkunda, signed a peace treaty yesterday.

Under the terms of the agreement, which was completed Monday and is expected to be signed Tuesday after nearly two weeks of difficult negotiations in the eastern city of Goma, the government and the rebel troops will withdraw from some of their positions and United Nations peacekeeping forces will establish a buffer zone.

A commission of Congolese officials and experts from the United States, the European Union and the African Union will oversee the integration of the rebel troops into the national army and the enforcement of a permanent cease-fire.

The rebels will also be granted amnesty on insurrection charges, which would have carried the death penalty, but they could still face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The agreement will also apply to other militias operating in eastern Congo.

This is a conflict that has led to the deaths of an estimated 4 to 5.4 million people, and currently about 45,000 people per month due to starvation and disease (half of them children), according to the International Rescue Committee (discussed in this Guardian article). The IRC refers to it as the "forgotten crisis." For good reason. Unless you live and work in Africa, or have particular ties to the continent, when is the last time you read news about the war in the Congo?

While diplomats, analysts and human rights advocates hailed the agreement as a historic step in a region torn by violence, many of the most difficult questions remain unresolved, like the status of Mr. Nkunda, the precise arrangements for ensuring the cease-fire and integrating the different forces into the national army, and the potentially explosive return of thousands of Congolese Tutsi living as refugees in Rwanda.
See also the IRC's very interesting blog, Voices from the Field.

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