Democratic Republic of Congo rebels said Tuesday they were laying down their arms after a crushing assault by the UN-backed army pushed them out of the country’s mineral-rich troubled east.
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 the insurgency that for 18 months has wracked the region rich in natural resources and the scene of some of Africa’s deadliest conflicts over the past two centuries.
Earlier, Kinshasa claimed “total victory” over the M23 after capturing the last two hills held by the movement’s die-hard fighters.
“The last remnants of the M23 have just abandoned their positions,” said Lambert Mende, communications minister and government spokesman.
“It’s a total victory for the DRC,” he said, adding that the holdout insurgents fled to neighbouring Rwanda.
“We have finished the job,” said Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Amuli, an army spokesman in the North Kivu region that was the scene of the fighting.
The Congolese army launched a major offensive against the rebels on October 25, steadily claiming their strongholds until dozens of fighters were this weekend pushed onto three hilltops about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the regional capital Goma and near the border of Rwanda.
The beleaguered insurgents called for a truce, but the army pressed on with its assault, claiming one of the hilltops on Monday.
The UN special force 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,” said a source at the UN brigade.
With the rebels on the backropes, M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa had on Sunday called for a ceasefire to allow a resumption of peace talks.
But the fighting only appeared to intensify after the M23 leader’s appeal, despite a statement issued early Monday by envoys from the European Union, African Union and the United Nations that said they were “concerned about the renewed outbreak of violence” that followed the truce call.
The UN and African leaders had 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 late on Monday African leaders echoed the sentiment, saying that a peace deal for DR Congo could 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 (SADC) in Pretoria.
Analysts say better preparation by the Congolese troops and the backing of the UN brigade with the unprecedented offensive mandate have helped changed the game in the restive east of the DR Congo.
The heavily-armed 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade joined 17,000 peacekeepers already deployed with a mission to carry out offensive operations against the rebel fighters, who are accused of human rights abuses including rape, murder and recruiting child soldiers.
The latest fighting to break out in the border region, rich in sought-after minerals, has sent thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring Uganda.
The UN refugee agency said on Monday it had moved another 3,000 Congolese refugees to its transit camp in Uganda’s town of Kisoro to escape the fighting, bringing the total number of refugees in the small town to 8,000.
The area of North and South Kivu in DR Congo has for decades been the centre of conflict because of its location — having borders with Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania — and the minerals that lie buried underneath its lush green hills.
The minerals include gold and coltan and tin, key component in electronic devices from cell phones to televisions and computers. – AFP