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Congo peace talks stall again amid apparent disagreement over amnesty for rebels

Peace talks between Congo's government and rebels of the M23 movement stalled again amid an apparent disagreement over amnesty for the rebels, Congolese government officials said Monday.

Negotiations appear to have been suspended following disagreements in a meeting Sunday night, the day after M23 said in a statement that a peace deal was likely to be signed "in the coming hours."

"We had hoped for an outcome that would bring joy and hope for the hills of the Kivus," Raymond Tshibanda, the Congolese foreign minister, told Congolese state television before leaving Uganda, where the talks have been held since December. "There is still work to do."

Lambert Mende, the Congolese government spokesman, said the government would soon reveal why the talks were suspended, but he suggested the issue of amnesty for rebel fighters had been a sticking point.

Lawrence Kanyuka, M23's deputy head of communications, said negotiators for the government walked out of a meeting Sunday night, saying they wanted M23 to expel Roger Lumbala for insulting President Joseph Kabila months ago in Burundi. Lumbala is the deputy head of M23's negotiators in Uganda, which has been mediating the talks under the banner of a regional bloc called the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.

The talks have repeatedly stalled amid sporadic clashes between Congolese forces and M23 rebels in eastern Congo. Chrispus Kiyonga, the Ugandan government minister who is mediating the talks, said he believed a final accord would soon be reached. He gave no details.

The M23 fighters are made up of Congolese soldiers, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, who deserted the national army last year after accusing the government of failing to honor the terms of a deal signed in March 2009.

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Mwanamilongo reported from Kinshasa, Congo.