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US envoy seeks 'semi-permanent' DR Congo peace talks

Leftover cases from ammunition are strewn on the ground of a position formerly controlled by the M23 rebel soldiers, in Kimbumba, on October 31, 2013
Leftover cases from ammunition are strewn on the ground of a position formerly controlled by the M23 rebel soldiers, in Kimbumba, on October 31, 2013.

A US envoy called Thursday for "semi-permanent" peace talks on the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying that the world needed to do more after the end of the M23 rebellion.

Russ Feingold, the US special envoy for the Great Lakes region, said he expected that talks in Kampala would lead within days to an agreement in which M23 rebels, under assault from Congolese troops, would disband.

But the former US senator said: "Remember, that's only one of 40 to 45 armed groups in eastern Congo."

"So it's not time to get out the champagne, by any means, although it could be a significant step in the right direction," Feingold said at Georgetown University.

Feingold, who will travel Sunday to South Africa for regional meetings, said he has spoken to African nations about naming a former president or head of state to negotiate with all sides.

"I think we need actual mediated talks, peace talks -- a semi-permanent mechanism," Feingold said.

The negotiator would speak to all nations including Rwanda, which is not involved in the Kampala talks but which the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United Nations accuse of backing the rebels.

Russ Feingold, then a U.S. Senator, speaks on October 5, 2006 in New York City
Russ Feingold, then a U.S. Senator, speaks on October 5, 2006 in New York City.

Rwanda adamantly denies supporting the M23, which was founded by former Tutsi rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal which they charge was never fully implemented.

More than 2.5 million people died in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2001 in what has been called Africa's first continental war.

Feingold, who served three terms as a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, said that the region was understandably weary of outside mediation.

"A lot of us with political backgrounds, we know how to put a press release out and get a pat on the back for trying to solve it, but their experience is that we go away," he said.

"Our commitment this time is to not go away, is to provide sustained attention to this problem for years," he said.

As evidence, Feingold pointed to the pledge in May by World Bank president Jim Yong Kim for $1 billion in support of development in the region.

Feingold vowed to work to reassure the Congolese that the investment would benefit them and not outsiders, acknowledging the historical qualms of a country once considered the personal fiefdom of King Leopold II of Belgium.

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