Rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) yesterday said they were laying down their arms after a crushing assault by the UN-backed Congolese army pushed them out of the country’s mineral-rich troubled east.
The M23 movement said in a statement that it had “decided from this day to end its rebellion” and instead to pursue its goals “through purely political means.”
The move ends the insurgency that for 18 months has wracked North Kivu Province.
Earlier, Kinshasa claimed “total victory” over the M23 after capturing the last two hills held by the movement’s die-hard fighters.
“The last remnants of the M23 have just abandoned their positions,” Congolese Minister of Communications and government spokesman Lambert Mende said, adding that the holdout insurgents fled to Rwanda.
The Congolese army launched a major offensive against the rebels on Oct. 25, steadily claiming their strongholds until dozens of fighters were this weekend pushed onto three hilltops about 80km north of the provincial capital, Goma.
The beleaguered insurgents called for a truce, but the army pressed on with its assault, claiming one of the hilltops on Monday.
The UN Mission in the DR Congo’s Intervention Brigade, which had been backing the Congolese forces with aerial reconnaissance, intelligence and planning, joined direct combat late on Monday after getting the green light to bombard the rebels’ remaining positions.
The heavily armed 3,000-strong brigade joined 17,000 UN peacekeepers already deployed with a mission to carry out offensive operations against the rebel fighters, who are accused of human rights abuses including rape, murder and recruiting child soldiers.
With the rebels on the backropes, M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa on Sunday called for a ceasefire to allow a resumption of peace talks.
Yet the fighting only intensified after the appeal, despite a statement issued early on Monday by envoys from the EU, African Union and the UN saying they were “concerned about the renewed outbreak of violence” that followed the truce call.
The UN and African leaders had urged the M23 — ethnic Tutsi former rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal — to declare an end to the rebellion they launched in April last year, claiming Kinshasa had not kept up its end of the deal.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, Switzerland, activists claimed on Monday that a Swiss company laundered gold ore pillaged by an illegal armed group from the DR Congo.
Argor-Heraeus is believed to have refined almost three tonnes of gold ore pillaged from the country between 2004 and 2005, according to Track Impunity Always (TRIAL) an organization dedicated to ensuring that perpetrators of international crimes are held accountable.
The group said it had filed a criminal complaint against Argor-Heraeus and that the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office had responded by opening a probe into the company for “complicity in war crimes and pillage.”
The company knew, or should have assumed, that gold which passed through Uganda had been obtained through pillage in the DR Congo, the group said.
Argor-Heraeus strongly rejected the allegations. In a statement it said it had already been cleared of similar suspicions by two Swiss and one UN investigations.
“Eight years after the conclusion of the case, the allegation arrives like a bolt from the blue for Argor-Heraeus,” the company said.
TRIAL says the gold in question was illegally mined by a group called the National Integrationist Front, which controls a mineral-rich area in the Ituri region.
The gold “was mined in appalling conditions” before being sold in Uganda to Congolese gold trader Kisoni Kambale, TRIAL said.
Kambale in turn resold the metal to Uganda Commercial Impex Limited, which sold it to UK firm Hussar Ltd. The gold was initially refined by South Africa’s Rand Refinery, but it stopped working with Hussar in mid-2004 “because it suspected the gold had been acquired illegally,” and that is when Argor-Heraeus entered the scene, TRIAL said.