Congo M23 rebels ready to disarm

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 5:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 3:39am

The Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebel group has declared an end to its 20-month rebellion and said it was ready to disarm its troops and pursue a political solution to end the crisis in the east of the country.

The declaration was issued yesterday - hours after government forces drove the rebels out of their last two redoubts before dawn, following a rapid advance in recent weeks that cornered the insurgents in hills along the border with Uganda and Rwanda.

The United States said the declaration was a "significant positive step" for eastern Congo, a region beset during the last 15 years by conflict fuelled by competition for its gold, copper and cobalt as well as cross-border ethnic tensions.

But the real test will be whether the rebels and government cease their military activities and sit at the negotiating table. Attention will turn to some 20 other armed groups operating in Congo's lawless east.

"The chief of general staff and the commanders of all major units are requested to prepare troops for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo," M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa said.

African leaders had urged the group to renounce their rebellion to allow the signing of a peace agreement with President Joseph Kabila's government.

In the distant capital, Kinshasa, hundreds of women marched to parliament chanting songs praising Kabila and the army.

"In a region that has suffered so much, this is obviously a significant positive step in the right direction," Russell Feingold, US special envoy to the Congo and the Great Lakes region, said.

Feingold said the issues of an amnesty and reintegration of rebels into Congo's army were key to ensuring a deal did not unravel in the same way that a previous accord signed in 2009 with Tutsi-led CNDP rebels in eastern Congo fell apart.

Those suspected of serious rights violations should be pursued and should not be covered by any amnesty, he said.

Feingold also said he was confident that neighbouring Rwanda, which has repeatedly rejected allegations by UN experts that it backed the M23, supported ending the insurgency.

With M23 neutralised, the Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels will be the priority for Congo's army and UN troops. The FDLR includes Hutus who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus and has long been used by Kigali as a pretext for intervening in Congo.

Smaller local rebel groups, ranging from the oil- and gold-rich Ituri district in the northeast to the copper-producing Katanga province in the southeast, also undermine Kinshasa's grip on its eastern border zones.

Congolese government spokesman Laurent Mende said many M23 fighters surrendered after government soldiers seized control of the rebel hideouts of Tshanzu and Runyoni.