DRC army captures last stronghold of M23 rebels

2013-10-31 09:23
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Kinshasa – Democratic Republic of Congo troops on Wednesday captured the last stronghold of M23 rebels in the troubled east of the country, raising hopes of a return to the negotiating table.

Bunagana, the rebels' main base located in the lush green hills near the border with Uganda, "is completely under our control", government spokesperson Lambert Mende told AFP, adding that the final battle for the town had begun early in the morning.

The rebels either fled into the mountains or crossed into neighbouring Uganda after the rout, Mende said.

An official of the UN mission in the country also confirmed that troops had taken control of the town some 80km north of Goma, a major mining hub and the capital of North Kivu province.

Troops and tanks had surrounded the nearby town of Rutshuru on Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday's assault, the army said.

The fall of Bunagana comes a day after Martin Kobler, the head of the peacekeeping mission known as Monusco, declared that the push by troops signalled "practically the military end of M23".

In the Ugandan capital Kampala, which is hosting stop-start peace talks, representatives from both sides voiced guarded optimism for progress on the negotiating front.

Francois Muamba, representing Kinshasa, said: "If what we have put on the table is accepted by the M23, with or without pressure, I think things will move forward."

M23 delegate Roger Lumbala was even more sanguine, saying negotiators were "putting the final touches to a deal proposed by Ugandan mediators. I think... tomorrow or the next day we'll have signatures on this agreement".

Kampala talks

Bertrand Bisimwa, M23's political leader who fled by helicopter to Uganda, is due to take part in the Kampala talks.

In Kinshasa however, DRC President Joseph Kabila, while saying that "political and diplomatic solutions" were still on the table, warned that if the rebels did not voluntarily disband, he would have "no other choice but to make them do so by force".

The M23 was founded by former Tutsi rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal they said was never fully implemented.

They mutinied in April 2012, turning their guns on their former comrades in North Kivu, a province rich in minerals and agricultural produce that armed groups have fought over for more than two decades.

At the height of their military strength, the M23 rebels were able to capture Goma for 10 days last November, before withdrawing as a precondition for the Kampala peace talks, which began on 9 December.

Intermittent fighting has persisted ever since, with a new flareup last Friday after a two-month lull.

A joint offensive by the government and a UN intervention brigade to push back the rebels began in earnest at the weekend.

Government troops quickly took control of a military base at Rumangabo used by the rebels and recaptured another town, Kiwanja, on their way to Rutshuru and finally Bunagana.

At the Rumangabo base, one soldier held in captivity by the M23 for nearly a year with up to 200 others described how the prisoners were "badly treated".

At least 5 000 people have fled

From time to time rebels came and "took people, certainly to kill them because we have never to this day seen them again", said Major James Mwendangabo.

In the nearby market, 26-year-old Jacques Kagura said he was happy to see the rebels leave.

"We suffered with the M23... Some people are still afraid to come back because we know that the M23 likes war whereas we are more reserved."

At least 5 000 people have fled into Uganda to escape the fighting.

That figure could double, warned Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

"We are predicting up to 10 000 people would have crossed by tomorrow, because the fighting seems to be going on very close to the border... People are continuing to cross even as we speak," she said Wednesday.

Other aid groups estimated that around 22 500 people had left their homes since Friday to move closer to Goma.

Alarmed by the renewed violence, the West called for restraint, with the United States warning that the conflict could submerge the whole region.

The United Nations and numerous rights groups have accused the M23 of atrocities including rape and murder.

Both Kinshasa and the United Nations allege that Uganda and Rwanda have backed the rebels, a claim both countries reject.

Read more on:    un  |  m23  |  drc  |  uganda  |  central africa  |  east africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.