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Leader of beleaguered DRC rebels calls for truce

04 November 2013, 07:44

Ntamugenga - The leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels has called for a ceasefire as government troops waged an offensive against the die-hard fighters in the country's troubled east.

The call came with the rebels on the back foot as Congolese troops pounded hilltop positions where some 200 fighters have holed up after being forced from their last stronghold this week.

"We order all the forces of the Congolese revolutionary army to immediately end hostilities with the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo [FARDC]," M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa said in a statement on Sunday.

He said his aim was to "allow the continuation of the political process" with Kinshasa in a bid to end the insurgency rocking the long-troubled region since April 2012.

Bisimwa urged rebel chiefs to "ensure the strict observance of this order by elements under their command".

His order was issued in the midst of fierce fighting in the mountainous region bordering Uganda and Rwanda. The FARDC forces on Sunday launched a fresh offensive against the rebels who fled to the hills after their base was seized Wednesday in the town of Bunagana, about 80km north of the regional capital Goma.

According to AFP correspondents in Ntamugenga, close to the battle zone, the fighting raged for about eight hours and had appeared to intensify after the ceasefire order.

"We are pounding Mbuzi," one of three mountains in eastern DRC where the rebels are hiding, General Lucien Bahuma told AFP by telephone earlier Sunday. "After the artillery we will send in the troops."

A DRC captain, speaking anonymously, said the army was "claiming back the hills. There is shooting in the mountains of Ntamugenga, Mbuzi and Runyonyi. The rebels are fleeing".

The lush green hilly region has been rocked by heavy fighting for the past 10 days as FARDC troops battle to stamp out the insurgency once and for all in the restive, mineral-rich Nord Kivu province.

The clashes have forced thousands from their fields and homes, and aid agencies estimate about 10 000 refugees have streamed into Uganda.

'A good first step'

When contacted by AFP, M23 spokesperson Vianney Kazarama insisted that the ceasefire order from the group's political branch would be carried out. "It is an undisputed order," he said.

A Congolese government's spokesman said Bisimwa's order was "perhaps a first step but we are waiting to see what follows and we have given instructions to our troops to act with restraint."

The head of the UN mission in DRC (Monusco), Martin Kobler, said he considered the M23 order "a good first step", adding that it "must be followed by declaring an end to the rebellion".

However, an officer with Monusco told AFP there were fears of renewed fierce fighting on Monday.

While the UN forces have not directly participated in the battle since 25 October against the M23 rebels, they have supported the Congolese army with logistics, intelligence and planning.

The M23 movement was founded by ethnic Tutsi former rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal but then mutinied in April 2012, claiming that the pact had never been fully implemented.

At their strongest in November last year, M23 marched into Goma, a mining hub and city of one million people, and took control for 10 days, before regional leaders persuaded them into fresh peace talks.

But the stop-start talks fell apart last month when Kinshasa refused amnesty for about 80 rebel leaders and the DRC army - backed by a special United Nations force - went on the attack in a bid to end the rebellion.



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