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M23 Announces End to DRC Rebellion

A rebel group that has fought the Democratic Republic of Congo government for more 18 months says it is laying down its arms and is ready to negotiate.

The leader of the M23 movement, Bertrand Bisimwa, said Tuesday the group will demobilize and only pursue its goals through political means.

This move came hours after DRC Congolese government forces pushed rebel fighters from the last two areas in eastern Congo under their control.

Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende confirmed that soldiers had retaken the areas and declared victory over the rebels.

DRC officials say the army will next go after the Rwandan Hutu rebel group FDLR, which operates on Congolese territory. Some older members of the group were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

M23 leader Bisimwa had asked for a unilateral cease-fire on Sunday to allow stalled peace talks between the two sides to continue, but the government rejected his call, saying it would only accept the end of M23's armed rebellion.

The U.S. has welcomed M23's decision to lay down its arms. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. is encouraging all of the parties that have been involved in efforts to resolve the conflict to follow through on a political process that leads to a plan for "disarming and demobilizing M23."

U.S. envoy to the DRC Russ Feingold said Tuesday the rebels' announcement was a critical and exciting step in the right direction. He cautioned that the government needs to carefully manage how to handle issues such as amnesty for the fighters. He said those guilty of serious crimes should not be eligible.

The U.N. also welcomed M23's decision to end its rebellion. In a joint statement with the African Union, European Union and U.S., the envoys said the development is only "one step towards addressing the persistent conflict and instability" in the country.

Eastern Congo has endured years of fighting involving the government and various rebel groups, usually over control of the area's rich mines.

M23 consists of fighters who joined the Congolese army in a 2009 peace deal, but later defected after complaining of poor treatment, and launched their rebellion in April 2012.

The group took over territory in Congo's North Kivu province and briefly occupied the provincial capital, Goma, last year.

The Congolese army has fought back with the help of a newly constituted U.N. Intervention Brigade, a force of about 3,000 soldiers authorized to protect civilians and help subdue eastern Congo's many rebel groups.

Congo has accused neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23 -- an allegation both countries deny.

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