DR Congo claims defeat of M23 rebels

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KINSHASA – The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed victory over M23 rebels in the east of the country.

A government spokesman said the last remaining rebels had either fled across the border or surrendered and their weapons had been destroyed overnight.

The M23 have not publicly commented on the claim. Kinshasa earlier rejected rebel calls for a truce.

At least 800,000 people have fled their homes since the conflict began in 2012.

Last week, the United Nations special envoy to DR Congo, Martin Kobler, said the group was all but finished as a military threat in DR Congo.

The UN has regularly accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23 although both governments deny the allegation.

If the M23's defeat is confirmed, it would send an intimidating message to at least 10 other rebel groups operating in the area. raising hopes of an end to two decades of conflict, BBC Africa security correspondent Moses Rono says.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende told the BBC that Congolese special forces had defeated the rebels, after a week of heavy fighting.

"We can say that it's finished. But you never know. Those who escaped can come with hit-and-run operations so we have to end everything politically so that we are sure our people can sleep quietly without any threat."

UN sources have not been able to confirm his statement.

Mr Mende added that rebel military leader Sultani Makenga was among those who had crossed the border either to Rwanda or Uganda.

UN tanks and helicopters were involved in the last push against rebel strongholds on Monday, the BBC's Maud Jullien reports from Goma. A 3,000-strong African brigade to disarm and neutralise rebel groups was approved by the UN earlier this year – in addition to the UN 18,000-member peacekeeping force.

The army has recently had a string of victories, driving the rebels from all towns they once controlled during a 20-month rebellion.

Last week government forces captured Bunagana, the main base of the M23 on the DR Congo-Uganda border.

But clashes continued on Monday and rebels shelled the town, killing four people. The violence prompted thousands of people to flee into Uganda.

The fighting came a day after M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa called for a ceasefire to "allow the continuation of the political process".

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