Congolese M23 rebels surrender

Group declares ceasefire, offering best hope of peace for years in war-ravaged east

Children, displaced by fighting between the Congolese army and M23 rebels in Bunagana in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, sit around a pot in a field with other displaced families in the Ugandan town of Bunagana, 491 km (305 miles) west of the capital Kampala, this week. Photograph: James Akena/Reuters

Congolese rebels have surrendered after a 20-month uprising, offering the best hope of peace for years in the country’s war-ravaged east.

The M23 rebel group declared a ceasefire and said it was ready to disarm and demobilise troops and pursue a political solution to end the crisis.

"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.

The announcement came hours after Democratic Republic of the Congo government forces drove the rebel fighters out of their two remaining strongholds.


“Tshanzu and Runyoni were taken by the army around 3am,” said government spokesman Lambert Mende. “Many M23 fighters are surrendering. Militarily, this is finished.”

The Kinshasa government expects peace talks mediated by neighbouring Uganda to resume soon, Mr Mende added.

Al-Jazeera showed pictures of M23 military leader Gen Sultani Makenga’s abandoned home in the village of Chanzu and quoted witnesses saying he had fled to Rwanda.

The M23 is made up of fighters who deserted the Congolese army in April 2012 following a mutiny. Its name is a reference to a March 23rd, 2009, peace deal the CNDP militia accused the Congolese government of betraying. Eight hundred thousand people have fled their homes since the insurgency.

The rebels’ capitulation marks a dramatic turnaround. Less than a year ago, they captured the major eastern city of Goma and bragged they were ready to march on the capital. UN peacekeepers were passive spectators and the Congolese army descended into a drunken, defeated shambles.

UN influence
But the lightning reversal appears to be a vindication of the UN decision to create its first fighting force with a mandate to go on the offensive. Tanks and helicopters from the 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade have supported a reorganised, better-paid and more disciplined Congolese army in the recent advances.

Perhaps most crucially of all, the backing that the M23 received from Rwanda has virtually dried up in recent months, regional analyst Jason Stearns blogged last week.

"According to several reports from the frontlines, despite indications of some cross-border support in the Kibumba area, the M23 was largely left to its own devices," he wrote. – (Guardian service)