(CNN) -- African leaders signed a U.N.-backed deal on Sunday meant to bring stability to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Government forces are battling the M23 rebel group in the eastern part of that country.
"It is my earnest hope that the framework will lead to an era of peace and stability for the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
The agreement calls for cooperation among nations to "preserve and protect the territorial sovereignty" of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said.
Ban praised the framework but stressed that it marks just the beginning of a "comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement."
The deal was signed in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa by envoys of several African nations, including Uganda and Rwanda. Representatives from the rebel group were not involved.
Ban said that a U.N. special envoy would be appointed to support the deal's implementation.
South African President Jacob Zuma said the agreement represents an opportunity.
"This framework in itself does not provide all the answers, it is an instrument that points the Government of the DRC, its immediate neighbors and the international community in a direction that will take this country out of the current morass," Zuma said at the signing ceremony. The possible deployment of an intervention brigade of U.N. troops has been mentioned as a way of stabilizing the nation's restive eastern region.
The agreement had been expected to be signed last month, but was delayed because of what Ban described as "procedural issues."
The M23 group was named for a peace deal of March 23, 2009, which it accuses the government of violating. The soldiers, mostly Tutsis, became part of the national army through that accord.
However, they broke away from the Congolese army in April, complaining they weren't being promoted as promised and because of a lack of pay and poor conditions.
Fighting between the M23 and the army has displaced close to a million people in North Kivu province and more than 300,000 in the southeastern province of Katanga, according to the United Nations.
The unrest continues a cycle of misery in eastern Congo, a mineral-rich region at the epicenter of political and ethnic conflict involving its neighbors to the east, Uganda and Rwanda.
The area has been embroiled in violence since 1994, when Hutu forces crossed the border from Rwanda fearing reprisals after the genocide in that country.
CNN's Joseph Netto and Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.