M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic Congo says it is ending its insurgency, hours after the government claimed military victory.
This comes a day after African leaders wrapped up talks in Pretoria saying a peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo could be signed if the M23 movement declared an end to its rebellion.
M23 said in a statement it was going to “purely political means” to achieve its goals and urged its troops to disarm and demobilise.
The M23 movement had entered peace talks with Kinshasa held in the Ugandan capital Kampala, but they fell apart last month, leading the Congolese army to launch an offensive against the rebels backed by a UN brigade. The M23 was founded by ethnic Tutsi former rebels who had been incorporated into the army under a 2009 peace deal but mutinied in April 2012.
The 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade in eastern DR Congo is drawn from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania. It joined 17,000 peacekeepers already deployed in the country, but it carries a special mission to help Congo’s army quell the rebellions in the region.
On Monday, the brigade carried out what is believed to be its first direct combat against M23 rebels since the Congolese army began a major assault against the rebellion in late October and seized control of all of the M23 strongholds.
Who are the rebels?
The group is made up of fighters who deserted from the Congolese army in April 2012 following a mutiny.
They are mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, a minority in eastern DR Congo but with ties to Rwanda’s leaders.
They were led by several top-ranking officers who were members of a former militia called the CNDP – including Col Sultani Makenga and Gen Bosco Ntaganda, who faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court.
Their movement is called M23 in reference to a 23 March 2009 peace deal, which the CNDP signed with the Congolese government.
Why did they rebel?
The rebels, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, say the government has not lived up to its promises in the 2009 deal.
They say they were mistreated after being integrated into the army, were not paid enough and that the military lacked vital resources, with soldiers were going hungry.
But analysts believe the real reason for their rebellion stems from comments made by Congolese President Joseph Kabila in January 2012, who under pressure from the ICC, said the Congolese authorities would put Gen Ntaganda on trial.
Where is he now?
Gen Ntaganda, known as “The Terminator”, gave himself up to the US embassy in Rwanda in March 2013, after losing a power-struggle within the M23.
He has since been transferred to the ICC in The Hague.
Is that why they are now on the back foot?
The internal rifts probably didn’t actually make much difference.
Most analysts point to two far more significant developments: Reduced Rwandan support for the M23 and the intervention of a tough new brigade of UN troops.
Although this was always denied by Rwanda, UN investigators have long accused Rwanda of backing the M23.
This led several donors to cut financial and then military aid to Kigali and the UN says Rwandan backing to the M23 has now fallen off.
Meanwhile, the UN has sent a force of some 3,000 well-equipped troops with a tougher mandate than any other peacekeeping force, tasked with disarming and “neutralising” rebels forces in eastern DR Congo.
Their use of helicopter gunships against the rebels is credited with making a huge difference, paving the way for the army to retake the territory seized by the rebels in 2012.
Why did the UN send the extra troops?
The UN has had a huge mission – currently some 18,000 troops – in DR Congo for many years but the unrest never seems to end.
Many Congolese have derided them as “tourists” for many years and in 2012, they were unable to stop the M23 from seizing the regional capital, Goma, before they pulled out under international pressure.
But they remained camped on the outskirts of Goma until their recent reverses.
Additional Reporting By Agencies