African leaders told Congo's M23 rebels on Tuesday they must publicly declare an end to their 20-month insurgency to allow the signing of a peace agreement with President Joseph Kabila's government.
The recommendation was made by heads of state from Southern Africa and the Great Lakes region who met through Monday night in the South African capital Pretoria to lend their weight to an international push to end the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Despite growing calls for peace, the M23 rebels and government forces were involved in artillery clashes on Monday near Congo's border with Uganda. Both sides blamed the other for the shelling.
A statement released by the South African-hosted summit in Pretoria said a peace agreement in eastern Congo could be signed "on condition that the M23 makes a public declaration renouncing rebellion, after which the Government would make a public declaration of acceptance."
"Five days after this is done, then a formal signing of the agreement would be done," the statement said. It was signed by Malawian President Joyce Banda and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni representing the southern African and Great Lakes region leaders.
M23's political leader Bertrand Bisimwa said on Monday the group was ready to sign the peace deal, but he accused the army of attacking rebel positions with heavy weapons.
Congolese President Kabila was present at the Pretoria meeting. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has fiercely denied repeated reports by U.N. experts that his country backs and helps the M23 rebels, did not attend but sent his foreign minister.
The summit congratulated Congolese government forces and a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo for "recapturing M23 strongholds and restoring government control".
A rapid Congolese army advance in recent weeks has driven the M23 rebels from towns and cornered them in the steep, forested hills along the Ugandan border, raising the prospect of peace in Congo's violence-plagued east. Reuters