Congo army captures last rebel stronghold

AFP-JIJI

Congolese troops on Wednesday captured Bunagana, the main M23 rebel base near the eastern border with Uganda, driving the M23 rebels from their last stronghold, a government spokesman said.

“Bunagana is completely under our control. We had been fighting since the early morning,” said Lambert Mende, adding that the rebels had either fled into the mountains or crossed into neighboring Uganda.

An officer from the U.N. mission in the country confirmed that troops had taken control of the town, which lies about 80 km north of Goma, the capital of the turbulent North Kivu province.

The fall of Bunagana came a day after Martin Kobler, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, declared that the push by troops signalled “practically the military end of M23.”

Congolese troops backed by a U.N. intervention brigade launched a major offensive last weekend against the M23 rebel movement of army mutineers in North Kivu.

At least 5,000 people have fled into Uganda to escape the fighting, which has moved close to the border.

That figure could double, warned Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Other aid groups estimated that around 22,500 people had left their homes to move closer to Goma, which is controlled by government forces.

In the Ugandan capital of Kampala, representatives from both sides were hoping to resurrect peace talks that stalled once again last week.

The joint head of the M23 delegation, Roger Lumbala, said delegates were “putting the final touches to a deal proposed by Ugandan mediators. I think . . . tomorrow or the next day we’ll have signatures on this agreement.”