The Independent (Kampala)

25 February 2013

Africa News Round Up

We start off this mornings news round up in Ethiopia where leaders from Africa's Great Lakes regional nations have signed a new peace deal aimed at bringing stability to the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Aljazeera reports.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, witnessed the signing on Sunday at the African Union's headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The presidents of the DRC, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia either attended or delegated the power to sign the deal.

According to the UN, the "peace framework agreement" could lead to the creation of a special UN intervention brigade in eastern DRC to combat rebel groups and renew political efforts.

But after almost two decades of war, expectations are low.

"I think it would be wrong to have too great expectations because the situation here is very difficult," Alex Queval, head of the UN mission in North Kivu, told Al Jazeera. "The conflict has been going on for at least 19 years, so it's not going to be solved overnight, but I definitely think that this approach can be a new beginning."

Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from the Mugunga camp for internally displaced persons outside Goma, said people there "really hope this [agreement] is the beginning of something."

Mugunga is host to tens of thousands of Congolese people who had to flee their homes following violence in the east in November 2012.

Despite the signing on Sunday, problems remain with the peace process, she said.

"We still dont know what kind of powers a special UN envoy would have [and] whether those signing will have a mechanism overseeing whether they will abide by what they signed up for," she said.

As many as 800,000 people have been displaced since the March 23 rebel group took up arms against the Kinshasa government last May.

The M23 rebels say they want to improve living conditions for the people of eastern DR Congo, but the UN says they are supported by Rwanda, which has been heavily involved in its eastern neighbour since those responsible for the country's genocide fled there en masse in 1994.

Bosco Ntaganda, who set up M23, was an officer in the Rwandan army before he left to join a rebel movement in DR Congo. The ICC accuses him of using child soldiers and the UN says he controls several mines in the east of the country.

In Egypt a top opposition leader Saturday urged a boycott of parliamentary elections in April, describing them as "an act of deception," CNN reports.

Mohamed ElBaradei is one of the leaders of Egypt's National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition groups.

In a tweet from his official account, he called for the boycott, just like he did three years ago.

"Called for parliamentary election boycott in 2010 to expose sham democracy. Today I repeat my call, will not be part of an act of deception," it read.

But Essam Erian, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and leader of the majority party in Egypt's upper house of Parliament, criticized the proposed boycott.

"Evading a popular test [by not participating in the parliamentary elections] only means that some people want to assume the executive powers without a democratic mandate," Erian said on the party's Facebook page.

The elections will be the first since Egypt's highest court dissolved the lower house of parliament in June, and it will be the first full Parliament in Morsy's presidency. The upper house, the Shura Council, has continued to meet.

In the past year, violent clashes in Port Said, a coastal province along the Suez Canal, have highlighted the longstanding resentment residents there feel toward Cairo.

In Guinea opposition coalition has withdrawn from preparations for long-delayed legislative polls and may stage nationwide protests, claiming the run up to the vote has been flawed, Reuters reports.

The election set for May 12 is intended to be the last step in the West African country's transition to civilian rule after two years under a violent army junta following the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte in 2008.

President Alpha Conde won a 2010 presidential election, but delays in the legislative vote have deepened a political deadlock and led to intermittent violence.

"We have all decided purely and simply to pull out of the electoral process to avoid supporting an elections masquerade," said Aboubacar Sylla, spokesman for the opposition coalition.

The opposition says the elections commission chose the poll date unilaterally and that two companies contracted to update voter rolls have skewed the lists in Conde's favour. They also want Guineans living abroad to be allowed to vote.

Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara called the move a tactic that risked making the May 12 poll date untenable.

"We're struck by the contradiction in the opposition's decision not to participate in the electoral process while affirming it will not boycott the legislatives," said Camara. "That could obviously affect the calendar initially planned."

The parliamentary poll was originally due to be held in 2011 but has already been delayed four times.

Conde has promised prosperity to the former French colony's 10 million people, whose economy produces only about $1.50 per person per day despite a wealth of natural resources, including the world's largest untapped iron ore deposit.

In Mali, French President Francois Hollande has said his country's forces are engaged in the "final phase" of the fight against militants in northern Mali, BBC reports.

He said there had been heavy fighting in the Ifoghas mountains, where members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were thought to be hiding.

Mr Hollande also praised Chadian troops for their efforts in the same area.

Thirteen Chadian soldiers and some 65 militants were killed in clashes on Friday, according to the Chadian army.

Chad's government has promised to deploy 2,000 troops as part of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma).

President Hollande said Saturday "heavy fighting" was taking place in the far north of Mali, near the Algerian border.

"This is the final phase of the process since it is in that massif [the Ifoghas mountains] that AQIM forces have probably regrouped," he said.

"Our Chadian friends launched an attack yesterday which was very harsh with significant loss of life," Mr Hollande added. "I want to praise what the Chadians are doing."

Thirteen Chadian soldiers and 65 militants were killed in a fierce battle in the mountainous Ifoghas region of northern Mali, Chad's military command announced on Friday.

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