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5M dead as Congo peace deal signed

  • Story Highlights
  • Government, armed groups sign deal to end fighting in DR Congo
  • New report says conflict has claimed lives of more than 5 million people
  • Government and armed groups attending conference in eastern city of Goma
  • IRC says most deaths from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition
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(CNN) -- The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and armed groups in the country signed a deal Wednesday to end years of fighting in the country's east, according to Peter Kessler, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Rebel soldiers loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda pictured in December near Goma

He had no details about the scope of the agreement. The signing ended a more than two-week-long conference between the two sides in the eastern city of Goma.

The news comes on the heels of a new report by the International Rescue Committee which said that the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Congo had taken the lives of some 5.4 million people since 1998, and that 45,000 people continue to die there every month.

IRC President George Rupp said the loss of life is equivalent to the entire population of Denmark, or the state of Colorado, dying within a decade.

Even with the country's violence, the IRC found that most of the deaths were from non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition.

Nearly half the deaths were among children younger than five, even though they are only 19 percent of the population, the IRC said.

The group said the national rate of mortality is nearly 60 percent higher than the average in the sub-Saharan region.

The IRC's regional director said a peace deal -- even if it covers only the east of the country -- would have a wider impact.

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"The significance is huge in the sense that the troubles in North Kivu have really been a major source of instability not only for the people in North Kivu itself, but for people in the surrounding region as well," said Alyoscia D'Onofrio, who spoke to CNN from Bukavu, in South Kivu province, which borders Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.

D'Onofrio said a peace deal would signal that the Congolese government can take control of security even in restive areas like the east. That in turn would improve regional security, since conflict in the east has tended to draw in neighboring states, he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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