KIGALI, Rwanda — A feared rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo announced Tuesday that it was laying down its arms immediately in a major development that held out hope of a new era of peace and stability in the violence-wracked region.
Following a string of recent victories on the battlefield by the Congolese Army operating with UN support, the group, known as M23, said it was ending the 20-month rebellion that had brought renewed instability, uncertainty, and conflict to the eastern part of Congo.
In a statement, the group’s chairman, Bertrand Bisimwa, said M23 had decided “from this day to put an end to its rebellion and to pursue by purely political means the search for solutions to the root causes which led to its creation.”
Bisimwa said, “Commanders are requested to prepare the troops for the process of disarmament, demobilization, and social reintegration whose terms are to be agreed with the Congolese government.”
The move was greeted as a victory for the Congolese military after years of frustration, but one that analysts said would prove fleeting unless the government addressed the root causes that have led groups to take up arms in the first place.
“In a region that has suffered so much, this is obviously a significant positive step in the right direction,” said Russ Feingold, the US special envoy to Congo and the Great Lakes region, at a briefing in Pretoria, Reuters reported.
Analysts have cited diplomatic pressure on the Rwandan government as a major factor in the group’s defeat. UN investigators have alleged that Rwanda supported the rebels, a charge denied by the government here in Kigali. The United States announced that it was suspending military aid to Rwanda.
“The international pressure on Rwanda seems to have made a difference,” said Ida Sawyer, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They will hopefully think twice before backing yet another abusive rebellion.”
The question is whether the Congolese military, supported by UN peacekeepers, can take on the dozen or more other armed groups in the area, restoring order throughout the region, or whether the political will is going to dissipate and the military campaign will lose focus following the defeat of the M23.
The announcement comes barely a year after the group occupied the provincial capital of Goma, a city of roughly 1 million people and a major commercial center in the eastern part of the country.
The occupation of Goma was M23’s high water mark as a force in the area, but the seizure of the city may have sown the seeds of its undoing.
The loss of a major city was an enormous embarrassment to the Congolese government and the United Nations, which had a significant number of peacekeeping troops in the city.
The Congolese military responded by reorganizing its forces in the region, removing officers viewed as ineffective, and raising morale with better equipment and more consistent pay.
The United Nations authorized a new intervention brigade of 3,000 troops with an aggressive new mandate.
Congo has been the scene of one of the most intractable and deadly conflicts the world has seen, claiming millions of lives in the past two decades. A string of militias, foreign armies, and rebel groups have rampaged across its territory, pillaging the countryside of valuable minerals while raping and murdering the population.