The Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebel group has declared an end to its 20-month insurgency and said it was ready to pursue a political solution after the army captured its last two strongholds.
The M23 made its announcement hours after government forces drove the rebels out of Tshanzu and Runyoni before dawn, following a two-week offensive that cornered the insurgents in heavily wooded hills along the border with Uganda and Rwanda. A beefed-up UN force has backed the government troops.
“The chief-of-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 United States welcomed the declaration as a “significant positive step” for eastern Congo, a region beset for more than 15 years by conflict fuelled by competition for resources as well as ethnic tensions.
A meeting of regional leaders in South Africa said earlier that President Joseph Kabila would sign a peace deal within days if rebels laid down their arms.
In the capital, Kinshasa, thousands of women dressed in white marched to parliament chanting songs praising Mr Kabila and the army.
It marked a dramatic turnaround for the 42-year-old leader. Only a year ago, M23 had swept aside UN peacekeepers and the army to capture Goma, the largest town in eastern Congo. That defeat led to the deployment of a tough new UN Intervention Brigade and to increased pressure on Rwanda and Uganda not to meddle in the conflict.
Martin Kobler, head of a 19,850-member UN peacekeeping mission, said attention would now turn to scores of smaller groups.