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Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila arrives for the leaders meeting at the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa.Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

The presidents of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda on Sunday threw their weight behind a regional pact to eliminate armed rebels in eastern Congo, signing the document and holding rare face to face talks.

Along with other leaders from the Great Lakes region, Congo's Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame put their signatures to an accord that foresees the creation of an international military force to take on multiple insurgencies in the eastern Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu.

Uneasy neighbours Congo and Rwanda, which have gone to war with each other in the past, have often swapped accusations about backing rival rebel groups, a charge that both Kigali and Kinshasa deny.

The agreement, originally initialled by Great Lakes region foreign ministers on Thursday, proposes a military response to an offensive by Tutsi-led M23 rebels in east Congo's turbulent borderlands, which are a political and ethnic tinderbox. While welcoming the regional pact against armed rebels, diplomats from major Western backers of Congo and Rwanda, such as the United States, have questioned where the troops for the "neutral international force" will come from.

The UN has a peacekeeping mission of more than 17,000 in the Congo but has often been hard pressed to halt fighting and protect civilians in the vast, unruly central African state which produces gold, copper, tin, diamonds and other minerals.

Also on Sunday, South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was elected to become the first female head of the African Union Commission, ending a bruising leadership battle that had threatened to divide and weaken the organization.

Cheers broke out at the AU's headquarters as supporters of the ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma celebrated her victory over incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon.

"We made it!" a grinning Zimbabwean delegate shouted, reflecting the strong support Ms. Dlamini-Zuma's candidacy had received from fellow members of the Southern African Development Community. Mr. Ping, who had served in the AU post since 2008, was largely supported by French-speaking African states.