Congo rebels push toward key city
Civilians displaced by fighting pelted the UN compound in Goma with rocks on Monday. They blame UN peacekeepers for failing to protect them from rebels.
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Now, despite a carefully negotiated cease-fire, and the presence of the world's largest United Nations peacekeeping force, Congo seems incapable of stopping another outbreak of war, with rebel commanders threatening to march toward the capital of Kinshasa, and 2 million Congolese displaced from their homes.Skip to next paragraph
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On Monday, the UN deployed attack helicopters against rebel troops marching on the town of Kibumba, which hosts thousands of displaced people, many of them Rwandan refugees.
UN under attack
At the same time, the UN compound in Goma came under attack from angry displaced civilians pelting the offices with stones. They blame UN peacekeepers for failing to protect them from the rebels. On Monday, the top military force commander for the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) resigned after less than a month on the job, a troubling breakdown in the UN command.
On Tuesday, the rebels, led by an ethnic Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda, held back from further clashes, as UN and Congolese Army troops withdrew from Kibumba. But UN troops re–inforced their positions on the western approaches to the city.
Mr. Nkunda says he is trying to protect his ethnic Tutsi brethren from massacre by Rwandan rebel groups. Of top concern are the FDLR, a Hutu-led group blamed for the 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda, who now take refuge in the forests of North and South Kivu. Government officials insist that they will deal with the FDLR once all Congolese rebel groups have been disarmed and integrated into the Congolese Army.
Yet while the commanders of other rebel groups quickly laid down their arms and received top positions in the Congolese Army, General Nkunda was turned down for his desired post as head of recruitment and training. In August, just months after the arrest of a top Congolese opposition leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, on war-crimes charges, Nkunda launched attacks on the government once again.
The fact that Nkunda's relatively small army of 4,000 well-trained soldiers is able to push back the larger but poorly trained and largely unpaid Congolese Army is a sign that the government's preferred strategy of dealing with Nkunda with force rather than dialogue is a losing strategy, says Gregory Mthembu-Salter, a senior Congo researcher for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
"In the previous situation, Kabila sent in 20,000 men, and he got beat by 4,000. [Congo's troops] can't fight."
• Jacques Kahorha contributed to this report from Goma and Kibumba.