A relatively new rebel group, M23--believed to have been supplied with weapons and other equipment by Rwanda--has seized Goma (including its international airport) of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From Sky News:
A rebel group created just seven months ago has seized Goma and its international airport in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to witnesses.The Chicago Sun Times also reports:
Explosions and machine-gun fire rocked the lakeside city, which has a population of more than one million people, as M23 rebels pushed towards the centre.
By early afternoon the gunfire stopped and the fighters, believed to be backed by neighbouring Rwanda, marched through the main streets while their commanders paraded in all-terrain vehicles.
Rwanda has been accused of equipping them with sophisticated weaponry, including night vision goggles and 120mm mortars.
The UN has around 1,400 peacekeepers in and around Goma but they did nothing to prevent the M23 advancing because they do not have a mandate to engage the rebels.
The UN Group of Experts is expected to release a report detailing the role Rwanda has played in the recruitment, financing and arms of the new rebel movement.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said Rwandan soldiers had crossed into Goma, hiking over footpaths across a volcano between the two countries.
Speaking from the capital Kinshasa, he said: "Goma is in the process of being occupied by Rwanda.
"We have people who saw the Rwandan army traverse our frontier at the Nyamuragira volcano. They have occupied the airport and they are shooting inside the town.
Pressing ahead with their seizure of cities in mineral-rich eastern Congo, the M23 rebels said Wednesday they are fighting to control all of this sprawling country and to topple President Joseph Kabila’s government.The UN is worthless.
Following their capture of the strategic city of Goma a day earlier, the rebels took the nearby town of Sake on Wednesday as they moved toward the provincial capital of Bukavu.
. . . The M23 is largely made up of ethnic Tutsis who want to extend their control over eastern Congo and its valuable deposits of gold, copper, coltan and timber. Their campaign, and alleged support from Rwanda, has its roots in the 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 Tutsis were massacred by Hutus.
Since then eastern Congo has been plundered by several rebel forces and foreign armies in conflicts that killed millions of people.
The speed with which the M23 has seized Goma and the surrounding countryside exposes the weakness of Kabila’s government, 1,500 kilometers (978 miles) to the west in Kinshasa, experts said.
“It’s a setback for Kabila. He wasn’t even capable of reforming the army and the fall of Goma demonstrated that,” said Felix Bafilemba, a Goma-based analyst for the Enough Project. “It marks the beginning of the end for Kabila’s regime.”
. . . For his part, Kagame publicly supported Kabila and reiterated his denial that Rwanda is supporting the rebels. But U.N. experts say the evidence is overwhelming that Kagame is supporting, even directing, the M23 so that tiny Rwanda can control eastern Congo’s lucrative mineral trade.
Uganda, which was also implicated in the Congo violence by report of U.N. experts, denies supporting the rebels but Museveni is increasingly seen as an ally of Rwanda’s Kagame.
While the three presidents called on the M23 to give up the territory that they have seized, the rebels continued Wednesday on toward their next target: Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province on Lake Kivu.
The Congo soldiers remaining in the government army near Goma said they are not sure what to do.
“We are waiting for orders now. We don’t know what we are supposed to do. It’s hard. My comrades who defected in Goma, we’re going to fight them,” said a Congolese army major reached by phone in Kanyabayonga, northwest of Goma, where some of the troops have regrouped. The major required anonymity because of the uncertain situation.
The U.N. has its largest peacekeeping force in the world in Congo, with 18,000 troops, known by their acronym MONUSCO. But the 1,500 peacekeepers in Goma did not help the Congo government troops forces during Tuesday’s battle because they do not have a mandate to engage the rebels, said Congolese military spokesman Olivier Hamuli, who expressed frustration over the lack of action by the peacekeepers.
A U.N. spokesman in New York said the peacekeepers in Goma held their fire to avoid triggering a battle.