The top United Nations official has welcomed the signing of long-awaited accords between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the M23 rebels it has been fighting until last month, and called on all other armed groups in the country to lay down their weapons and join the political process.
"This constitutes a positive step towards ending cycles of deadly conflicts that have caused immense suffering to the Congolese people," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement from his spokesperson.
Talks between the M23 - mostly composed of soldiers who mutinied from the DRC national army in April last year - and the Government have been held in Kampala, Uganda, under the auspices of the Chairperson of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the Mediator, as well as Ugandan Defence Minister and Facilitator, Crispus Kiyonga.
The deal, reached after weeks of stalled talks, was finalized last night in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, signed by President Museveni and President Joyce Banda of Malawi, the chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The agreements effectively end the Kampala Dialogue which aimed at reaching a final and principled agreement that ensures the disarmament and demobilization of the M23 and accountability for human rights abuses.
"The DRC Government and M23 have respectively signed declarations reflecting the consensus reached during the Kampala Dialogue on steps necessary to end the armed activities of the M23," towards long-term stability, reconciliation and development in the country, according to the joint ICGLR-SADC (Southern African Development Community) final communique.
Under the outcome documents, former rebels are entitled to amnesty for rebelling, but are not granted immunity to alleged perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, or gross violations of human rights.
Both sides also agreed on the following: the release of prisoners; the end of M23 as a rebel movement and the possibility to establish itself as a political party; and the return of extorted and looted properties during the M23's brief occupation of Goma in November 2012.
The two declarations also include provisions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes. In the past year alone, the fighting has displaced more than 100,000 people, exacerbating an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region which includes 2.6 million internally displaced persons and 6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid.
In his statement, Mr. Ban "urges the parties to begin implementation without delay and to fully respect their commitments," the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the joint communique calls on international partners, particularly the UN and the African Union (AU) "to work together and provide support and resources to the Government of the DRC for the implementation of the commitments."
Turning to the wider instability in the country, Mr. Ban called on all other armed groups in the country - which include the Mayi Mayi, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) - to "lay down their weapons and pursue their objectives through peaceful political means," the spokesperson said.
Mr. Ban said that he hoped that the DRC and its neighbours will build on the latest positive developments to address the root causes of instability in the eastern part of the country.
Those plans include the implementation of an 11-nation Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region signed earlier this year under UN auspices as a comprehensive approach to sustainable peace in the region.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, has been building support for the framework which she has dubbed 'the framework of hope.'
Mrs. Robinson has led a group of Special Envoys, which includes Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General's Special Representative in the DRC, as well as United States Special Envoy Russ Feingold, African Union Special Representative, Boubacar Diarra and the European Union Senior Coordinator Koen Vervaeke.