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Africa

Fighting continues in DR Congo

The Congolese army seized one of the last positions held by the M23 rebel group on Monday. Thousands of people are on the run. The rebels have repeated their peace offer.

Standing beside his taxi at the Biere roundabout in the center of Goma, James Karefu is keeping calm. "No, I'm not afraid of the M23. Its present state does not allow them to stand in front of a regular army", the taxi driver tells DW. One year ago, the name M23 was enough to sent shockwaves down the spines of Goma residents, after the rebels took the major trade hub in eastern DRC. They stayed in the city for ten days while Congolese soldiers and UN peacekeepers stood by and watched.

That has changed dramatically. After a military campaign that lasted a few weeks, the rebels control little more than three hilltops in the entire region. And even though fighting between the rebels and the army erupted again on Monday in another part of the eastern DR Congo, Goma's residents went about their daily routines. "In Goma, life goes on normally", DW correspondent Gaïus Kowene reported. Shops, schools and banks operate as usual, our correspondent said.

M23 launched its rebellion in April 2012, becoming the latest reincarnation of an ethnic Tutsi rebel group dissatisfied with the Congolese government.

Rebels holding just a few hilltops

A view over Lake Kivu and Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Photo by PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images).

Goma was conquered by the rebels last year.

None of the residents expect the rebels to return any time soon. On Monday, Congolese soldiers seized the strategic hilltop of Mbuzi. It had been "completely conquered," the AFP news agency quoted a senior Congolese official as saying. "We can't stop...there are only a few hills left to conquer," he added. Correspondents in the area reported that the soldiers attacked the hillpost with tanks and rocket fire. Seven rebels are said to have been captured.

The M23 complained that the army had attacked its positions with heavy weapons. "Our movement reiterates that we are ready to unconditionally sign the peace deal agreed on Saturday, November 3 in Kampala," the rebels said in a statement. On Sunday (03.11.2013), M23 rebel leader Bertrand Bisimwa had offered a truce. "We order all the forces of the Congolese revolutionary army to immediately end hostilities with the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo", he said in a statement.

Thousands on the run

The clashes have displaced thousands of people in the region. Aid agencies estimate that some 10,000 people have crossed into neighboring Uganda. "The streets are full of people running from the fighting", Lucy Beck of the UN refugee agency told Reuters news agency.

Congolese soldiers advance against the M23 rebels near the Rumangabo military base in Runyoni, 58 km (36 miles) north of Goma, October 31, 2013 (photo by REUTERS/Kenny Katombe).

The Congolese army conquered a hillpost previously held by M23 rebels.

In Goma meanwhile, many people hope that the M23 will soon be beaten for good so that they can return to their homes. The city is still offering sanctuary to thousands who were displaced by fighting in recent years. "This attack is a way for rebels to show the government that they still exist and can cause harm. I am confident that they will not be able to do anything bad," a lady who gave her name only as Gisele, told DW. She said that she was preparing to return to her home town of Kibumba, about 25 kilometers north of Goma.

Peace efforts

The European Union, the African Union and top United Nations envoys called on both sides to exercise restraint. Their statement urged the M23 to renounce its rebellion as agreed and the army to hold off from further military action for the moment.

African leaders will meanwhile meet in South Africa's capital Pretoria on Monday evening to find a political situation for the crisis. South Africa's president Jacob Zuma is expected to discuss the situation with the presidents of Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.