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Congo Announces Peace Deal With Rebels

Government negotiators and Congo rebel groups have reached a deal to end fighting in the country's restive east, officials said Monday.

The president of Congo's national assembly, Vital Kamerhe, announced at a press conference that all parties had agreed to an accord that will be signed Tuesday.

At a meeting late Monday, a representative from each delegation publicly voiced their acceptance of the accord with none against, according to an AP reporter in attendance. Included among those accepting were representatives for militia fighters known as Mai Mai who had been among the last holdouts and had walked out on earlier meetings.

Kambasu Ngeve, the head of a 10-person delegation representing Laurent Nkunda - the major insurgent leader - confirmed that the groups had reached an "agreement in principal."

"We are on the eve of the signature of an act of disengagement that will put an end to fighting, to war in our country, so that we can begin humanitarian and development work," Kamerhe said.

Kamerhe did not provide details of the agreement, but said it addresses key concerns such as amnesty for rebel fighters and troop pullouts, Kamerhe said.

Government officials and representatives from numerous rebel groups have been meeting in the main eastern city of Goma since Jan. 6 in an attempt to broker peace in the restive east. Though nearly 1,300 delegates have been in attendance from various parties, the absence of both President Laurent Kabila and Nkunda had left some observers skeptical about the chance for an accord. They instead sent representatives to the talks.

Various delegations have walked out and returned to the table over the past two weeks, as debates raged about amnesty for fighters, the fate of former Rwandan fighters who have taken refuge in eastern Congo and disarmament or reintegration programs for rebel troops.

Although Congo took a major step toward stability with its first free and fair vote in more than 40 years in 2006, President Joseph Kabila has struggled since to contain a sporadic and bloody insurgency in the nation's east. Numerous militias, of which Nkunda's is one of the largest, have set up bases in the dense forests, terrorizing villagers, raping women and forcing boys to enlist as fighters. Some 800,000 villagers have fled their homes in the last year.

Nkunda defected from Congo's army several years ago and formed his own militia soon after Congo's civil war ended in 2002. He said he needed to protect his minority Tutsi ethnic group from Rwandan Hutu rebels who have occupied forests in east Congo since fleeing Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

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