Facing defeat at the hands of government forces, M23 says it is laying down weapons to focus on “political means”.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebel group has declared an end to its 20-month rebellion, saying it is ready to disarm and demobilise troops and pursue a political solution to end the crisis in the east of the country.
The M23 declaration was issued hours after government forces drove the rebel fighters out of their last two strongholds at around 3am local time (00:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
African leaders had urged the group to renounce their rebellion to allow the signing of a peace agreement with DRC President Joseph Kabila’s government.
“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 in a statement.
Congolese government spokesman Laurent Mende said many rebel fighters were surrendering after government soldiers seized control of Tshanzu and Runyoni.
Mende said the Kinshasa government was ready to pursue peace talks.
“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 at a briefing in Pretoria.
Driven to the hilltops
Government troops on Monday drove the M23 from hilltop positions in the east of the country, where rebels were holed up after being forced from their last stronghold of Bunagana last week.
The army said the rebels had been bombing Bunagana and said it showed the ceasefire declaration of the M23 rebel group at the weekend was worthless.
“This is not fighting, it is bombs launched by M23 targeting the population of Bunagana,” said Colonel Olivier Hamuli, an army spokesman. “They are targeting civilians.”
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Bunagana, said that he had seen at least three bodies and that body parts scattered the road in the town. Soldiers on the scene said more had been killed.
“They were going about their daily tasks: preparing food, washing clothes,” he said, adding that he heard another bomb fall on a nearby town.
“Now [the town] is deserted, except for soldiers.”
Envoys monitoring the conflict for the UN, EU and the African Union urged both sides on Monday not to undo progress made in peace talks, saying M23 should renounce its rebellion as agreed and the army should hold off from further military action for now.
The UN special force in the DRC said it fired mortar rounds at M23 rebels on Monday, in what appeared to be its first direct combat against the rebellion since a resumption of hostilities last month.