M23 rebels announce 'end of rebellion' in DR Congo
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The M23 insurgency said Tuesday it would "end its rebellion" in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hours after the country's communications minister declared "total victory" over the group following a final government assault on its strongholds.
M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Tuesday they would end their 18-month-long insurgency, hours after the country's communications minister declared "total victory" over the rebellion following a final government offensive on their remaining strongholds.
The M23 movement said in a statement that it had "decided from this day to end its rebellion" and instead to pursue its goals "through purely political means".
The move ends an insurgency that has wracked the region, which is rich in natural resources and has been the scene of some of Africa's deadliest conflicts over the past two centuries.
Earlier on Tuesday, Kinshasa's communications minister had claimed "total victory" over M23 after capturing Runyonyi and Chanzu, the movement's last two hilltop bases.
"The last remnants of the M23 have just abandoned their positions," said Lambert Mende, who serves as a government spokesman as well as communications minister.
"It's a total victory for the DRC," Mende said, adding that the insurgents had fled to neighbouring Rwanda.
"We have finished the job," Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Amuli confirmed to AFP.
The Congolese army launched a major offensive against the rebels on October 25, steadily claiming their strongholds until dozens of fighters retreated onto three hilltop bases about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the regional capital Goma and near the border with Rwanda.
The beleaguered insurgents called for a truce, but the army pressed on with its assault, claiming one of the hilltop bases on Monday.
The UN troops in the region – which had been backing the Congolese forces with aerial reconnaissance, intelligence and planning – joined direct combat late Monday after getting the green light to bombard the remaining positions of the beleaguered rebels.
"We will continue to fire until everything is under control," a source with the UN brigade told AFP.
With the rebels on the ropes, M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa on Sunday called for a ceasefire to allow a resumption of peace talks.
UN and African leaders had in the past urged the M23 – ethnic Tutsi former rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal – to declare an end to the rebellion they first launched in April 2012, claiming that the government had not kept up its end of the deal.
"It is important that the M23 ... declare the end of the rebellion. The fighting must stop," the head of the UN mission in DR Congo, Martin Kobler, said in a statement on Monday.
Meeting in South Africa later on Monday, African leaders echoed the sentiment, saying that a peace deal for DR Congo could only be signed if the rebels declared an end to their insurgency.
"The parties would sign an agreement on condition that the M23 makes a public declaration renouncing rebellion," said Stergomena Tax, executive secretary of the 15-country Southern African Development Community in Pretoria.
Analysts say the backing of the UN brigade and better preparation on the part of Congolese troops – along with an unprecedented UN mandate to launch an offensive – helped change the game in the country's restive east.
UN forces were formerly authorised only to take defensive positions, which allowed the rebels to seize the upper hand, said Douglas Yates, an Africa analyst and political science professor at the American University of Paris, in an interview with FRANCE 24.
But earlier this year, the UN authorised a special brigade to take a more offensive posture in the DRC. "And by taking the offensive, they put M23 on the run," Yates said.
‘Imminent’ attack on Rwandan rebels
With the end of the M23 insurgency, the DRC’s military will now turn its attention to other rebel groups operating in the country, with the defeat Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) the main priority.
An “imminent” attack on the Rwandan Hutu group is currently being planned, government spokesman Mende said.
"There is no more place in our country for any irregular group," Mende said, adding that the M23 rebels had been "top of the list" before their surrender.
"They have been replaced by the FDLR,” Mende said. "We are going to get on with disarming them."
The FDLR has been present on Congolese territory since fleeing across the border from Rwanda in 1994, after the Rwandan genocide of some 800,000 people. Older members of the FDLR are blamed for the slaughter, which targeted the Tutsi minority.
Mende said that once the FDLR had been dealt with, "It will be (the Ugandan rebels) of the ADF-NALU and the LRA, then the (Burundian) FNL" rebels and then a host of Congolese militias.
The FDLR, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF NALU), the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the National Liberation Forces (FNL) and myriad other armed groups, including tribal militias, have each held sway over parts of Congolese territory, sometimes for many years.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)