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 demobilize troops and pursue a political solution to end the crisis in the east of the country.
It is the second time the group has made such a statement in three days. On Monday, fighting continued to rage in the DRC even after a cease-fire proposed Sunday by M23.
"The chief of general staff and the commanders of all major units are requested to prepare troops for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo," M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa said in a statement.
The declaration was issued hours after government forces drove the rebel fighters out of their last two strongholds at around 3 a.m. local time Tuesday.
"Militarily, this is finished," government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters, adding that President Joseph Kabila's administration expected peace talks mediated by Uganda to resume shortly.
African leaders had urged M23 to renounce its rebellion to allow the signing of a peace agreement with Kabila's government.
"In a region that has suffered so much, this is obviously a significant positive step in the right direction," Russell Feingold, U.S. special envoy to the Congo and the Great Lakes region, said at a briefing in South Africa.
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 Bunagana last week.
The army said the rebels had been bombing Bunagana. Army spokesperson Col. Olivier Hamuli said M23's call for a cease-fire Sunday was nullified by the bombing.
"This is not fighting, it is bombs launched by M23 targeting the population of Bunagana," Hamuli said. "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 United Nations, European Union and the African Union urged both sides 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 U.N. 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.
Al Jazeera and wire services