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UN Envoy Says M23 Is Weakened Militarily in Eastern Congo

Congolese soldiers move to frontline positions as they advance against the M23 rebels in Kibumba, north of Goma October 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT) - RTX14QPU
The U.N. Security Council met Monday to discuss the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting between M23 rebels and the army flared over the past few days, resulting in the death of one U.N. peacekeeper and the displacement of several thousand Congolese.

France called for the meeting Monday after clashes resumed Friday between rebels and the Congolese army, following the suspension of peace talks in Uganda.

The U.N. Mission in Congo, MONUSCO, reported that the situation in North Kivu remained tense on Monday, but that fighting between M23 and the Congolese army had stopped.

French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters that the U.N. envoy in Congo, Martin Kobler, said the M23 has been severely weakened militarily. Kobler briefed the Security Council by video link from Kinshasa.

“Basically he told us we are witnessing the military end of the M23. I think this is a positive development. There was a general agreement that now we should go back to the table of negotiation in Kampala," said Araud.

Two other diplomats said Kobler was careful to put the end of M23 in the conditional, saying "in the coming days we might witness the military end of the M23."

When peace talks in Kampala were suspended last Monday, the U.N. said agreement had been reached on eight of 11 issues, but that there still was no consensus on amnesty, integration, disengagement and security arrangements.

Regarding media reports that quoted the governor of North Kivu as saying mass graves were found as the army performed cleanup operations as it left Kibumba, 25 kilometers north of Goma, Ambassador Araud said the U.N.’s Kobler confirmed those reports.

“He said that they discovered two mass graves. But apparently the remains are not recent, so they are not the result of the last days of fighting. So they need to have forensic investigation to know what is the origin of the victims and when the apparent massacre has been conducted," he said.

The U.N. mission says that, after two days of fighting, the army took control of the towns of Kiwanja and Rutshuru, and were continuing clearing operations east and southeast of the area on Monday.

On Sunday, a Tanzanian peacekeeper assigned to the Intervention Brigade, working to neutralize armed groups in the area, was shot and killed by an M23 fighter during the clashes. In a statement, the U.N. Security Council condemned the M23 attacks that led to the peacekeeper’s death.

Great Lakes Special Envoy Mary Robinson and the U.N.’s Kobler have called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to return to negotiations.