The Congolese government says it will give limited amnesty to the March 23 movement (M23) rebels and integrate them into the army if they agree to lay down their arms by March 15.
The proposed deal, which was announced on Monday, requires the M23 rebels to hand in their weapons ahead of the deployment of UN peacekeepers in their territory in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Reuters reported.
Congo’s government would, in turn, give rebels who are not facing prosecution positions in the army and speed up the return of Congolese ethnic Tutsi refugees from Rwanda.
“It’s a working document… on March 15 negotiations will be finished in one way or another, with or without a signature,” Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said on Monday, without stating what would happen if the rebels did not sign.
The M23 rebel group and the government have been holding talks in Uganda since December 2012 in an attempt to end the recurrent conflicts in Congo’s mineral-rich east.
The two sides were supposed to sign an accord by Friday, March 15, but that now seems an unlikely prospect due to a split in the rebel movement two weeks ago, which occurred after a dispute between the commanders of M23.
Several armed groups, including the M23 rebels, are active in the east of the DRC and fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
The M23 rebels seized Goma on November 20 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city of one million people. M23 fighters withdrew from the city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese Army in April 2012 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.
Since early May 2012, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 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 since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.