By Mick Krever, CNN
The U.S. special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russ Feingold, said that while the decision by M23 rebels in that country to lay down their arms against the government is a “hopeful moment,” it is far from the end of the road.
“It would be a great over-simplification to call this important step the end” of Congo’s hardship, Feingold told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“Some five to six million people have died in this conflict over the last 20 years,” he said from Johannesburg. “There are dozens of armed groups involved; there are complex issues involved in the countries in the region. We need a broader political dialogue to resolve that.”
The M23 has been fighting the Congolese government for nearly two years. On its website, the group announced that it would "pursue, by purely political means, a search for solutions to the profound issues that led to its creation."
“What has happened here is not simply the M23 rebellion saying that they’re going to have a ceasefire, or cease for a while,” Feingold said. “They have formally renounced their rebellion.”
He called their promised disarmament an important step towards fulfilling the so-called Kampala Talks, started by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
“We are optimistic there could be a signing of the arrangements to make this possible in the next few days,” Feingold said. “And this is a hopefully first step towards peace and prosperity in this region.”
M23 was named for a peace deal reached on March 23, 2009, which it in the past has accused the government of violating.
Feingold said that “whatever the agreement was,” it was “no justification” to start an armed rebellion.
He suggested that one reason these talks may be more successful than those held previously was that these are in the open, as opposed to ones that were previously private. He also noted that those talks gave “more of a blanket amnesty.”
“There has to accountability for those who committed crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he said.
But others, who did not commit war crimes or crimes against humanity, “will have a chance to, on a case-by-case basis, individually renounce rebellion, as individuals,” Feingold said.
In other words, “the vast majority” of M23 rebels “would be allowed to reintegrate into Congolese life: To have a living and to have political rights.”
A smaller group, who he said are guilty of those heinous crimes, will not be granted amnesty.
“That accountability could in some cases occur in front of the ICC,” he told Amanpour (an alleged Congolese rebel commander, Bosco Ntaganda, is currently in ICC custody).
“But it doesn’t have to – in fact my expectation is that most of accountability will be through the Democratic Republic of Congo’s justice system,” Feingold said, adding that the international community would assist them “in any way we can.”
Any lasting peace deal will almost certainly include Congo’s neighbors.
Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, in an interview with Amanpour earlier this year, vigorously denied claims that he his government supported the M23.
He said that it was a “complex” problem.
“It's not just an issue of the M23 or one other problem,” President Kagame told Amanpour. “It's a number of problems that are together, that we need to sort out and move on.”
Feingold called this “absolutely correct,” and said that Rwanda was a “friend and ally” of America.
Feingold is involved in helping to broker Congo’s peace, he said, because U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry recognize “that Africa is a very important place for the United States to have good relationships.”
“We are, all over the world, trying to make sure that places that are ungovernable or do not have proper governance are fixed,” Feingold said, adding that lawless regions create openings for “people that want to do us harm.”
“So it's in the national security interests of the United States, as well as a moral obligation, that both the President and the Secretary of State have shown leadership on.”