Conflict & Justice

A photographer in Congo witnessed the moment when the guns fell silent

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Credit: Pete Muller for the New York Times
With heavy guns still smoking, residents of the town of Bunagana, celebrate the routing of M-23 rebels by the Congolese army.

Jubilant residents of eastern Congo are pouring into their dusty streets this week.

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They're celebrating a decision by the ruthless rebel group known as the M23 to lay down their arms.  

Congo's army and rebels had been fighting for more than a year before the government forces soundly defeated the insurgents in their last stronghold. 

That's a bit of a surprise for Congolese soldiers, better known for corruption, looting and rape than professionalism. 

Photographer Peter Muller, who works frequently for the New York Times, says he's seeing a new discipline in the Congolese armed forces.

Muller marched with Congelese soldiers as they launched their final assault on the M23 rebels in a town called Bunagana.

He describes what it was like when the fighting halted in the small border town on Congo's border with Uganda.      
 
"As soon as those last rounds came out of that 50 caliber gun, it was extraordinary.  The civilian population just poured out of the houses where they'd sort of locked themselves inside," Muller says.
 
He added that the barrel of that machine gun was "still smoking" when hundreds of villagers gathered around it, singing and cheering and welcoming the Congolese forces into the town. 
 
"The previous M23 rebel headquarters had been sort of ransacked and all their paperwork and all this stuff had been strewn about in the main square," Muller says. "It was a very exuberant atmosphere in Bunagana." 
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    Credit: Pete Muller for the New York Times
    Congolese soldiers inspect munitions abandoned by M23 rebels at a former M-23 military base in Rumangabo, north of Goma. (Photo: Pete Muller for the New York Times)
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    Credit: Pete Muller for the New York Times
    Congolese soldiers advance up the mountainous road toward Bunagana, the last remaining stronghold of the M-23 rebels on Wednesday. (Photo: Pete Muller for the New York Times)
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    Credit: Pete Muller for the New York Times
    Congolese civilians scatter during a burst of heavy machine gun fire as FARDC troops advance toward Bunagana. (Photo: Pete Muller for the New York Times)
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    Credit: Pete Muller for the New York Times
    Congolese soldiers are greeted by cheering crowds in Bunagana, the last remaining stronghold of the M-23 rebellion. (Photo: Pete Muller for the New York Times)
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    Credit: Pete Muller for the New York Times
    The men of the Kanyabugoyi family gather inside their family home in the village of Rugare, which was recently wrest from M-23 rebels by the Congolese army. The family fled their home in August after being continually harassed by M-23 rebels. When they returned on Monday, 28 October, they found their home had been broken into and many of their belongings by M-23 forces. (Photo: Pete Muller for the New York Times)

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