Uganda, Rwanda Accept Holbrooke Peace Plan

By Julius Mokaya | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Uganda and Rwanda have agreed to honor a United Nations peace agreement, brokered earlier this month by US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, to withdraw their troops from the Democratic Republic of Congo and hand over the area to UN peacekeepers.

The chief of the Ugandan army, Major-General Jeje Odongo, and his Rwandan counterpart, Brigadier-General Kayumba Nyamwasa, agreed at a meeting in Rwanda to start withdrawing troops and heavy weaponry from the northern DRC city of Kisangani. UN observers witnessed the signing.

The two countries' troops entered the civil war on the same side - supporting Congolese rebels fighting forces loyal to President Laurent Kabila - but subsequently clashed with each other.

Kabila's troops are supported militarily by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola.

Speaking by telephone from Kampala, Uganda, Odongo said: "The pullout and subsequent coming in of the United Nations soldiers will quicken the process of finding lasting peace in the Great Lakes region.

"We have agreed that both our forces will withdraw to a distance of at least 100 kilometers from Kisangani," he added, saying the withdrawal would start on May 25th.

The sides will leave behind a maximum of 216 soldiers each to mount joint patrols until 1,000 UN observers and troops take control of the city.

They also agreed to jointly patrol their common border, where each side has accused the other of building up troops and increasing tensions.

Briefing reporters earlier, Odongo said both sides were determined to end the conflict in the DRC and the hostility between themselves.

Holbrooke, who helped draft the plan to demilitarize Kisangani, said earlier this month the deployment of a UN force in Kisangani should be given priority, otherwise fighting may flare up again.

He spoke during a visit by a UN Security Council team to the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa.

Formerly allies, the Rwandan and Ugandan troops turned on each other after each began to support rival factions of anti-Kabila rebels. They were also accused of exploiting the vast country's mineral wealth.

Earlier this month, the forces clashed in the diamond-rich city of Kisangani for the second time since last August, leaving dozens dead and wounded. It was this fighting that prompted the UN to send Holbrooke to avert the crisis.