DR Congo grants amnesty to hundreds of M23 rebels

Members of the Democratic Republic of Congo rebel group M23 sit at the refugee settlement in Ramwanja, Uganda on December 17, 2014 (AFP Photo/Isaac Kasamani) (AFP/File)

Kinshasa (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo announced Thursday it had granted amnesty to around 375 ex-members of the defeated M23 rebel movement.

The rebels' 18-month war, during which they briefly seized the key eastern DR Congo town of Goma, capital of the mineral-rich North Kivu province, was brought to an end in 2013 by government troops and UN peacekeepers.

Some 1,300 rebels fled to Uganda and others took refuge in Rwanda after their insurgency was crushed.

According to decrees from DR Congo's justice ministry read out on public television, the amnesty law covers "insurgent acts", "acts of war" as well as "political offences" and requires rebels to sign a promise not re-offend.

The amnesty does not include offences like crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, torture, sexual violence, use or conscription of children, embezzlement of public funds and looting.

In February last year President Joseph Kabila announced the amnesty as part of the deal to end the conflict with the rebels.

The rebels complained in August that only 31 members of M23 had been granted amnesty out of the 3,657 people who had signed a pledge not to take up arms again.

The insurgents also complained that "dozens" of their comrades were arrested after returning to DR Congo.

Of the ex-rebels benefitting from the amnesty about 30 were locked up in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, 220 others in Uganda, 122 in Rwanda and four others in Goma.

While the M23 rebels were defeated, numerous armed groups still operate in a region that has been in turmoil for the best part of the past two decades.

Much of the rebel activity consists of abuses against civilians and illegal exploitation of natural resources, be it metals, ivory or timber.