Rebel fighters in the DR Congo enter Goma, threatening wider conflict
After days of pushing back UN peacekeepers to close in on the eastern city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a rebel group called M23 is threatening to destabilize the region.
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The M23 offensive began after rebels demanded direct talks with the Congolese government. According to The Wall Street Journal, Lambert Mende, Congo's information minister, ruled out direct talks with M23, saying the government "would rather speak to Rwanda, which is the real force behind the current offensive."Skip to next paragraph
Latin America Editor
Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.
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A UN panel of experts has accused both Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, though leaders from both countries deny the charges. The AP reports that Rwanda is accused of equipping M23 rebels with “sophisticated arms, including night vision goggles and 120 mm mortars.” And, according to the BBC, the M23 is made up of mostly ethnic Tutsis, which is the same group that dominates Rwanda’s government.
The New York Times reports this is the heaviest fighting seen in eastern Congo since 2008. That was when Goma was last threatened by rebels, reports the AP, “when fighters from the now-defunct National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, stopped just short of Goma, after intense international pressure.”
Their backs to the wall, the Congolese government agreed to enter into talks with the CNDP and a year later, on March 23, 2009, a peace deal was negotiated calling for the CNDP to put down their arms in return for being integrated into the national army.
The peace deal fell apart this April, when up to 700 soldiers, most of them ex-CNDP members, defected from the army, claiming that the Congolese government had failed to uphold their end of the deal. They charged that they were not properly paid and equipped and that the government has systematically discriminated against ethnic Tutsis, which make-up the majority of their ranks.
The rebels are led by a “renegade general” Bosco Ntaganda who is wanted by the International Criminal Court to answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, reports the Journal. During the mass defections last April, The Christian Science Monitor’s guest blogger Jason K. Stearns wrote that Congolese generals feared Ntaganda and his troops would attack Goma “to make a point.”
At the same time, he has been able to stitch together a formidable, if shaky, alliance of [ex-army] commanders through co-option and intimidation over the past years, and he personally has a lot to lose.
Mr. Stearns, an expert on eastern Congo, echoed that sentiment in comments to the Times this week. “This is the big escalation we’ve been expecting for months." But, Stearns added, “for the M23, taking Goma is a gamble. It gives them huge leverage, but also brings greater infamy.
“It will be a serious blow to the region’s stability.”