JOHANNESBURG – Congo’s M23 rebels, the latest in a succession of militias responsible for horrific attacks on civilians in the east of the country, effectively surrendered Tuesday when they announced that they were laying down their arms and disbanding.
The announcement comes after the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army heavily bombarded two hills overnight, Chanzu and Runyonyi, the last rebel strongholds. In recent days the rebels abandoned a swath of territory, including many towns and villages, after being overpowered by Congolese army attacks.
M23, an ethnic Tutsi militia, has been led and armed by Rwandan forces who often crossed into Congo, according to a report by experts who advise the United Nations. It is the successor to other Tutsi militias in the region with close ties to Rwanda.
But it is not the only group responsible for atrocities against civilians in eastern Congo, an area with a plethora of competing militias. Congolese army forces have also been implicated in past abuses, as have the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, an ethnic Hutu militia that includes some leaders of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa announced Tuesday that the rebels had decided to lay down their arms and pursue the resolution of their grievances through political means.
The whereabouts of M23’s military leadership, including a dozen wanted by Congo for alleged war crimes, isn’t clear, although analysts speculated they fled into Rwanda or Uganda.