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US 'regrets' DRCongo talks halted

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) on October 21, 2013 in Paris
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) on October 21, 2013 in Paris

The United States on Monday denounced the suspension of peace talks between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the M23 rebels, saying the insurgents were "deliberately delaying" the process.

"The United States regrets that further progress was not made... in reaching an agreement over the weekend in Kampala," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told AFP, adding the US was "concerned that the M23 is deliberately delaying the process and not negotiating in good faith."

Both sides announced the suspension of the talks in the Ugandan capital Kampala just hours after UN envoys warned it was "critical" to reach a deal to end the year-and-a-half-old rebellion ravaging DR Congo's mineral-rich but volatile east.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said the talks had been suspended because of disagreement over the extent of an amnesty for the M23 army mutineers and their reintegration into the national army.

Harf praised what she said were "the good faith efforts by the DRC government to negotiate a final agreement."

Washington calls "upon the M23 to demonstrate its commitment to a peaceful resolution to the crisis by signing a final agreement that provides for the immediate disarmament and demobilization of the rebel group and accountability for those M23 leaders implicated in human rights abuses," she added.

US special envoy to the Great Lake Russ Feingold on Monday arrived in Kinshasa from Kampala where he had attended the peace talks along with UN special envoy to the Great Lakes Mary Robinson and UN special envoy to the Congo Martin Kobler.

Parts of a peace deal were initialed, Harf said, but "issues of amnesty, reintegration, and a transitional security arrangement remain unresolved."

"We think a full and principled agreement must be signed in the immediate future."

Washington was also pressing for the deal to be sealed in a way "that does not grant amnesty to the worst offenders," she stressed.

The framework peace process should "focus on resolving the root causes of the crisis in the DRC, including through expanded dialogue between signatory states," she added.

Backed by the international community, DR Congo's government is refusing to give amnesty to about 80 leaders of the M23 and to enlist these men into military ranks.

Earlier, a Congolese government official had warned that the negotiations, which resumed in September under pressure from regional leaders, were "heading slowly but surely towards failure."

The M23 consists of ethnic Tutsi fighters from an earlier rebellion who were integrated into the Congolese army under a peace pact in 2009, then mutinied in April 2012 and turned their guns on their fellow soldiers, accusing the government of failing to keep the deal.

The rebels control an area of around 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) in the eastern North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.