DR Congo military attacks last areas held by M23 rebels

M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo (December 2012)
Image caption M23 fighters have lost most of the territory they had captured

Government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo are attacking the last areas held by the M23 rebel group in the forested hills in the east.

Hundreds of refugees are fleeing the fighting close to Congo's eastern border and crossing into Uganda.

The M23 on Sunday called a ceasefire to allow peace talks with the government.

It follows a string of defeats by government troops, who have driven the rebels from all towns they once controlled during a 20-month rebellion.

In a statement, the M23 called on the organisers of the peace talks in neighbouring Uganda to "put in place a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire".

A government spokesman said the statement was "a step in the right direction" but that it was waiting to see if the ceasefire was being implemented.

"There is always a delay between the order being given and the reality on the ground," Lambert Mende was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"In any case the army will continue to pursue the demobilisation and disarmament of the rebels."

At least 800,000 people have been left homeless since the conflict started.

The M23 is made up of army deserters who say they are fighting for the rights of the minority Tutsi ethnic group.

'All but finished'

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

His comments came after government forces captured five rebel-held areas, including one where the rebels had a big military training camp.

Peace talks in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, broke down last month following two months of negotiations.

The government forces have been backed by a UN intervention brigade deployed earlier this year to confront the M23 and other armed groups.

The rebels briefly occupied the eastern Congolese city of Goma in November 2012 before pulling out under international pressure.

The M23 rebel movement is named after a 23 March 2009 peace deal that ended four years of rebellion in eastern DR Congo.

Inside DR Congo
size map
The Democratic Republic of Congo covers 2,344,858 square km of land in the centre of Africa, making it the 12th largest country in the world.
size map
Eastern DR Congo is awash with a variety of different rebel groups – some have come from neighbouring countries, while others have formed as self-defence groups. Many are taking advantage of the lack of a strong state to seize control of the area's mineral riches.
mineral wealth map
DR Congo has abundant mineral wealth. It has more than 70% of the world's coltan, used to make vital components of mobile phones, 30% of the planet's diamond reserves and vast deposits of cobalt, copper and bauxite. This wealth however has attracted looters and fuelled the country's civil war.
transport map
Despite the country's size, transport infrastructure is very poor. Of 153,497km of roads, only 2,794km are paved. There are around 4,000 km of railways but much is narrow-gauge track and in poor condition. Waterways are vital to transport goods but journeys can take months to complete. Overcrowded boats frequently capsize, while DR Congo has more plane crashes than any other country.
population map
With an estimated population of 71 million, DR Congo is the fourth most populous country in Africa. Some 35% of the population live in cities and the capital Kinshasa is by far the largest, with more than 8 million inhabitants. DR Congo has around 200 ethnic identities with the majority of people belonging to the Kongo, Luba and Mongo groups.
demographic map
Given its size and resources DR Congo should be a prosperous country, but years of war, corruption and economic mismanagement have left it desperately poor. In 2011 it lags far behind in many key development indicators, with average life expectancy increasing by only 2 years since 1980, after a period when it actually fell during the mid 1990s.