M23 rebels 'face military end'
The army of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who just one year ago abandoned their posts and fled in the face of an advancing rebel army, succeeded yesterday in taking back a strategically important city.
In what appears to be a turning point in the conflict, the c ivilian population of Rumangabo, which reportedly suffered grave abuses under the rebels, poured into the streets to welcome the soldiers, running alongside their tanks.
Women threw flowers. Men picked palm leaves off of the nearby trees and waved them. The UN envoy to the DRC told the Security Council it was the military end of the M23 rebel group.
"I confirm that we have just taken the city of Rumangabo," said Congolese military spokesman Lt. Col Olivier Hamuli. "(We) entered the city at 11am and were met by the applause of the population."
Over the weekend, Congolese soldiers took back Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Buhumba and Kibumba. Of the five, Rumangabo is the most important militarily, because it is home to one of the largest military camps in the country's troubled east.
The soldiers faced no resistance as they headed into Rumangabo town, according to a reporter for The Associated Press accompanying the troops.
From there they advanced toward the camp, which dates back to the time of ex-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and was taken over about a year ago by the M23 rebels, who used it to train their recruits.
The Congolese army reached the camp at around noon, secured the stockpile of weapons left there and posted guards. It was there that the troops were approached by Jacques Leon Liripa, a soldier who was captured by the rebels in 2012, and spent more than a year as a prisoner of war.
He said the M23 rebels deserted the area on Sunday afternoon, and he was able to break out of jail. He spent the night in the forest, emerging only when he saw his former colleagues.
Martin Kobler, the UN special representative for DRC, briefed the UN Security Council and told them "we are witnessing the military end of the M23," according to French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud.
"We hope that the rebel movement has been chastised, and will go back to the negotiating table," Mr Araud said.
The government will quickly restore administration, said the governor of the North Kivu province. "I confirm the fall of Rumangabo," said Julien Paluku.
"We have just held two meetings in order to discuss how to uplift the population ... and we are announcing the restoration of the civil service within the next 24 hours."
The M23 rebels are just the latest to take over a swath of the country's volatile east. Their members belonged to a now-defunct rebel army which agreed on March 23, 2009 to integrate the national army, in return for abandoning the conflict. These same soldiers mutinied in 2012, claiming that the Congolese had not fulfilled its promises under their accord.
Fighting between the two sides has flared and ebbed throughout the past year, each time ending with stalled peace talks, hosted in Kampala, the capital of neighbouring Uganda.