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Congolese Rebel Group M23 Announces End To Insurgency


And now to central Africa where a tough new intervention by the United Nations has lead a rebel group to end its military insurgency. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the group known as M23 has announced surrender. NPR Africa correspondent Gregory Warner reports on the surprising development.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Eleven months ago, M23 rebels were driving tanks down the Avenue of Peace in the city of Goma in Eastern Congo. The evening, only weary commuters took that road home. Among the crowds was a civil engineer named Dominique Madwa ph). He said over a cellphone he was thrilled that the M23 had surrendered. It meant people and investors returning to the city building projects, creating more work for his firm.

DOMINIQUE MADWA: (Through translator) Now we are confident that everlasting peace has come back to this country.

WARNER: Everlasting peace may be a stretch with more than 30 rebel groups still active in Eastern Congo, but the M23 was one of the worst in a field of bad actors. Sasha Lezhnev of the U.S.-based Enough Project says they abducted hundreds if not thousands of child soldiers and sex slaves.

SASHA LEZHNEV: M23 was one of the worst abusers and according to evidence from the U.N. group of experts and Human Rights Watch, they were supported by the government of Rwanda so it's a case of national sovereignty being broken.

WARNER: Their defeat was made possible by a change in UN strategy. After two decades of sending in peacekeepers whose blue helmets were for many Congolese a symbol of ineffectiveness, the United Nations authorized a special intervention brigade made up of other African soldiers and gave them a first ever mandate to engage and neutralize rebel groups. That show of force accompanied a new spirit of professionalism in the Congolese Army.

LEZHNEV: The competing chains of command were taken out. The most corrupt generals weren't part of the operation so most of the credit should go to them, but...

WARNER: But the UN financed tanks and helicopters and supply lines allowed the army to quickly rout M23 from their strongholds. The U.S. Special Envoy Russell Feingold called the rebel surrender an important first step.

RUSSELL FEINGOLD: This is only the beginning of a legitimate peace and development process, but it is a valuable beginning.

WARNER: Still, others worried that this was only a reshuffling as long as the source of the conflict, a scramble for mineral resources continued between remaining rebel groups and the Congolese military. Long before the M23 showed up, Human Rights Watch had reported that the Congolese army was worse than any rebel outfit in perpetrating human rights abuses.

Now, that same army, backed by the UN, has to prove that it can take down the remaining rebels while holding its own soldiers and its generals in check. Gregory Warner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.