Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebels said on Tuesday they were laying down their arms after a crushing assault by the UN-backed army pushed them out of the country's mineral-rich troubled east.
The M23 movement said in a statement it "decided from this day to end its rebellion" and instead to pursue its goals "through purely political means."
The move ends the insurgency that for 18 months has wracked the region rich in natural resources and the scene of some of Africa's deadliest conflicts over the past two centuries.
Earlier, Kinshasa claimed "total victory" over the M23 after capturing the last two hills held by the movement's die-hard fighters.
"The last remnants of the M23 have just abandoned their positions," said Lambert Mende, communications minister and government spokesperson.
"It's a total victory for the DRC," he said, adding that the holdout insurgents fled to neighbouring Rwanda.
"We have finished the job," said Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Amuli, an army spokesperson in the North Kivu region that was the scene of the fighting.
Offensive against the rebels
The Congolese army launched a major offensive against the rebels on October 25, steadily claiming their strongholds until dozens of fighters were this weekend pushed onto three hilltops about 80 kilometres north of the regional capital Goma and near the border of Rwanda.
The beleaguered insurgents called for a truce, but the army pressed on with its assault, claiming one of the hilltops on Monday.
The UN special force in the region, which had been backing the Congolese forces with aerial reconnaissance, intelligence and planning, joined direct combat late Monday after getting the green light to bombard the remaining positions of the beleaguered rebels.
"We will continue to fire until everything is under control," said a source at the UN brigade.
With the rebels on the backropes, M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa had on Sunday called for a ceasefire to allow a resumption of peace talks.
But the fighting only appeared to intensify after the M23 leader's appeal, despite a statement issued early Monday by envoys from the European Union, African Union and the United Nations that said they were "concerned about the renewed outbreak of violence" that followed the truce call.
Meanwhile on Monday, African leaders went into talks to discuss the possibility of reinforcing a UN special brigade deployed in the DRC, as rebels there are forced onto the back foot.
Zuma opened the talks urging his fellow leaders "to continue to do everything we can to act together in partnership, to respond to the urgent challenges of restoring peace and stability".
UN intervention brigade
Zuma is hosting leaders from some of the 15-country Southern African Development Community (SADC) and some of DRC's neighbours at the summit in Pretoria.
The 3 000-strong UN intervention brigade in eastern DRC is drawn from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania. It joined 17 000 peacekeepers already deployed in the country, but it carries a special mission to help DRC's army quell the rebellions in the region.
On Monday, the brigade carried out what is believed to be its first direct combat against M23 rebels since the Congolese army began a major assault against the rebellion in late October and seized control of all of the M23 strongholds.
The army is now pursuing die-hard rebels holed up in the lush, hilly region bordering Uganda.
'Tragic history of this region'
Presidents from the DRC, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe are among those at the Pretoria meeting.
The African Union commissioner for peace and security, Smail Chergui, said the summit is "trying to write a new page in the tragic history of this region".
The SADC chairperson and Malawi's President Joyce Banda meanwhile urged the DRC government to consider returning to negotiations with the rebels "for the sake of peace in the DRC" as "military intervention alone is not enough".
Analysts said Monday's meeting is aimed at mapping out ways to completely drive out the M23 rebels.
"The meeting is a final co-ordinating meeting between SADC and Great Lakes countries," said Martin Rupiya, executive director of the Pretoria-based African Public Policy and Research Institute.
"They think M23 is on the rocks," said Rupiya, adding that "the main agenda is to finish off" the rebels.
The UN regularly accuses neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda of covertly supporting the rebels, a claim they deny. – AFP; Reuters