DR Congo army seizes Bunagana base from M23 rebels
Government forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have captured Bunagana town, the main base of the M23 rebel group, officials say.
The troops entered the town on the Ugandan border in large numbers as the rebels fled, residents told the BBC.
M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa was earlier reported to have crossed into Uganda as Congolese troops advanced on his base.
The M23 launched a rebellion in eastern DR Congo in April 2012.
It is made up of army deserters who say they are fighting for the rights of the minority Tutsi ethnic group.
At least 800,000 people have been left homeless since the conflict started.
It is a remarkable turnaround in this year-and-a-half long rebellion. Until this week, a relatively small number of rebels had controlled vast swathes of territory in the jungle-covered hills on the borders of DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Last November, UN troops had stood by, powerless, as M23 fighters briefly captured Goma. The UN had pledged to protect the city, and blamed the defeat on what they said was military backing from Rwanda. For the 18,000-strong UN force ,it was an embarrassing demonstration of their ineffectiveness.
But an injection of fresh peacekeepers earlier this year with a stronger mandate to actively take the fight to the rebels appears to have turned the tide. In less than a week, the Congolese army, backed by UN artillery and helicopter gunships, has routed the rebels.
This almost certainly will not mean the end of hostilities in this region plagued numerous armed groups. But it may well provide a template for a more robust style of peacekeeping in Africa and elsewhere.
About 10,000 people fled to Uganda this week, with about half of them arriving on Wednesday, said Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the Associated Press (AP) news agency reports.Heavy shelling
On Monday, the UN special envoy to DR Congo, Martin Kobler, said the M23 was all but finished as a military threat in DR Congo.
His comments came after government forces captured five M23-held areas, including Rumangabo where the rebels had a big military training camp.
The government forces have been backed by a UN intervention brigade deployed earlier this year to confront the M23 and other armed groups.
The BBC's Ignatius Bahizi in Uganda says residents in Bunagana told him there was heavy shelling, before the town fell to government forces.
"Bunagana is completely under our control. We had been fighting since the early morning," DR Congo's government spokesman Lambert Mende told the AFP news agency.
Bunagana, a town of several thousand people and the headquarters of Mr Bisimwa, is on the Uganda-DR Congo border.
Mr Bisimwa had surrendered to Ugandan security operatives after crossing the border in a convoy of two vehicles, Uganda's state-owned New Vision newspaper reported.
He left Bunagana when government and UN forces were about 5km (three miles) away from the town and he was being questioned by Ugandan security operatives, the paper said.
However, M23 officials denied that Mr Bisimwa had fled.
They told our reporter that the M23 political leader had travelled to Uganda to sign a peace accord with the government.
Peace talks hosted by Uganda broke down last week.
The UN and DR Congo government have repeatedly accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels. They deny the allegation.
Eastern DR Congo has been wracked by conflict since 1994, when Hutu militias fled across the border from Rwanda after carrying out a genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.