DRC pounds rebels despite truce call
04 November 2013, 15:34
Ntamugenga - Democratic Republic of Congo's army on Monday pounded the remaining hilltop positions of M23 rebels in the country's troubled east despite a truce call by the beleaguered insurgents.
Troops used heavy arms to attack the estimated 200 diehard fighters holed up in the hills after a military offensive forced them from their last stronghold last week.
The fresh assault came a day after the leader of the beleaguered rebels, M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa, called for a ceasefire.
"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)," 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".
But on Monday, the M23 said in a statement that troops had launched a new assault using "heavy arms".
‘Claiming back the hills’
The order was issued amid fierce fighting in the mountainous region bordering Uganda and Rwanda, where the army has pinned the rebels who fled to the hills after their base was seized on 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 on Sunday and had appeared to intensify after the ceasefire order.
"We are pounding Mbuzi," one of three mountains in eastern DR Congo where the rebels are hiding, General Lucien Bahuma told AFP by telephone early on Sunday. "After the artillery we will send in the troops."
A DR Congo 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 North Kivu province.
The clashes have forced thousands from their fields and homes, and aid agencies estimate about 10 000 refugees have streamed into Uganda.
The head of the UN mission in DR Congo (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".
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 DR Congo army - backed by a special United Nations force - went on the attack in a bid to end the rebellion.