Kinshasa - After having defeated M23 rebels, Congolese government soldiers and United Nations troops will turn their attention to other armed groups who attack civilians, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the central African country said on Wednesday.
Martin Kobler said the Congolese army now has control over all the territory that had been held by M23, whose rebellion began in mineral-rich eastern Congo 19 months ago. On Tuesday, soldiers recaptured the last two hills and M23's president released a statement declaring an end to its armed struggle.
The demise of M23, though, still leaves a number of armed groups blamed for killing and raping civilians.
"Armed groups should know that we're not going to leave a void. We are going to respond with force against all threats to the civilian population," Kobler said.
The greatest remaining threat comes from the FDLR, a group led by Rwandan Hutus who helped commit the 1994 genocide and later escaped to Congo, prompting a series of Tutsi rebellions including the latest one by M23.
Among the issues to resolve now is the question of amnesty for M23 fighters and whether some will be integrated into the national army. Kobler, however, said "we have a very clear opinion that amnesty will not be granted to those who have committed serious abuses including war crimes and rape."
M23 emerged in the wake of another Tutsi rebellion known as the CNDP. A UN group of experts say help from neighbouring Rwanda, whose president is also Tutsi, allowed the rebels to make further inroads in eastern Congo. By November 2012, they swept into Goma and briefly held the city of 1 million people, only to retreat under international pressure.
In the aftermath of the Goma siege, internal divisions mounted within M23. The group was substantially weakened after its leader Bosco Ntaganda turned himself in to face charges at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.
Analysts said not only did the M23 rebels face a stronger, more competent Congolese army that received logistical support from UN forces that had stronger rules of engagement but that aid from Rwanda had substantially diminished during this latest round of clashes.
Human Rights Watch has accused the M23 fighters of killing scores of civilians and forcibly recruiting child soldiers, among other abuses. Many of the group's leaders are believed to have fled into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.