THE words optimism and Congo have never been a natural fit.

Over the course of many reporting assignments made to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) I have often come away dismayed by a country that cries out as a ­political lost cause.

Vast, and in places near ­physically impenetrable, it is a nation that has endured endless convulsion from conflicts that have taken a scarcely believable toll in human life.

For years now DRC has been at the epicentre of what could be termed Africa's world war. ­Neighbouring countries and others alike have used proxy ­militias to wrestle for control of its immense natural resources, among them deposits of gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt and coltan. Without the last of these - coltan - alone, our computers and mobile phones would cease to function.

An estimated three million people have died as a direct result of the fighting, along with the disease and malnutrition that accompanies it.

In short, DRC is a country both blessed and blighted by its own immeasurable potential wealth.

Given these interminable ­problems it was good to see some encouraging news coming out of DRC this week, as one of the ­country's most potent rebel forces, the March 23 Movement (M23), announced a final and immediate end to its two-year armed insurgency.

As if to prove its sincerity, the M23 also called upon fellow soldiers, even those who fled across the border into Uganda, to drop their weapons and cease hostilities with the Congolese Army. Reports yesterday confirmed the group's commander, Sultani Makenga and some 1500 of his fighters ­surrendered to the Ugandan ­military in the country's ­Mgahinga National Park.

That M23 now looks to have thrown in the towel is in part a result of an unusually competent performance by the Congolese Army. Even more significantly, though, it endorses the concerted intervention of a beefed-up UN brigade brought in to give the world's largest peacekeeping force - Monusco - greater military clout in dealing with the myriad rebel groups that still exist across ­Eastern DRC.

What then does M23's demise tell us about the shifting military and political dynamics of the region, and is the new found ­glimmer of optimism justified?

In order to address these ­questions it is important to first understand who M23 were and what they represented.

Put in the most basic terms, M23 was the latest incarnation of perennial uprisings by Congolese ethnic Tutsis in the Kivu provinces of Eastern DRC.

It was, in effect, a breakaway faction of another insurgent group, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which engaged in a series of clashes with the government in Kinshasa until signing a peace agreement on 23 March 2009 - hence the name M23.

As part of this deal most CNDP forces agreed to amalgamate themselves into the Congolese Army. But some 300 CNDP soldiers, who labelled the accord a sham and remained angry over other failures by the Kinshasa government such as its inability to raise their army salaries, took matters into their own hands.

In April last year these ­disgruntled soldiers led by General Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda, officially established a new rebellion movement: the M23.

Barely a year after its ­foundation, the M23 grew from a force of 300 to some 4000 personnel, with guns and other weaponry readily supplied - say international observers - by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda both keen to extend their influence in the resource rich region.

Three factors combined to undermine M23. The first was the slow cutting off by Rwanda and Uganda of this weapons conduit under pressure from the ­international community.

The second was the deployment of the UN intervention brigade made up of South African, ­Tanzanian and Malawian forces.

The third factor has been the efforts to reorganise and improve professionalism within the ­Congolese Army with western military advisers continuing to train several "commando ­battalions" that have been actively engaged in the fighting against M23 and other rebel groups.

The question now is whether this success can be repeated in terms of neutralising the threat posed by Eastern DRC's other active militia groups. The campaign against M23 will have sent out a clear warning to other former Tutsi rebel commanders determined to initiate rebellions. But other armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) the primary remnant Rwandan Hutu rebel group and several Mai-Mai - community-based militias - continue to be troublesome in Eastern DRC.

Diplomats at the United Nations say the Congolese army and 3000-strong UN intervention force could now turn their attention to other rebels in Congo's east, which does not even have a tarmac road connecting it to the capital Kinshasa over 1000 miles away.

"The general consensus was we have to handle the other armed groups, and among which - I guess on the frontline if I may say - the FDLR," French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said after a briefing this week of the 15-member Security Council on Congo.

Given this region's long violent history, there tends to be an ­enduringly pervasive mood of fatalism among diplomats, ­political and intelligence analysts when it comes to strategies over DRC.

We have been here before is the common refrain. One positive political step forward and two back. It's a matter of time before the violence escalates again and all the main actors revert to type.

"Just because you think you've beaten back the M23 rabble rousers in the east, do you really think it can become a stable country? I don't think so," was how Martyn Davies, chief executive of the Johannesburg-based Frontier ­Advisory gloomily summed it up this week."This time next year, you'll be looking at an 'M24'," insists Mr Davies. For the sake of long suffering Congolese civilians I hope he is wrong. But I'm not holding my breath.