Congo rebels advance as regional leaders seek cease-fire

The war continues to expand in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with rebels vowing to extend the gains they've made in the east of the country as more civilians are forced to flee their homes.

Jerome Delay/AP
Refugees flee the town of Sake in Congo after the government failed to liberate the town from the M23 rebel movement.

As regional leaders talked peace in plush hotel rooms a country away, fighting between rebels and government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo's east rumbled on.

On Friday, civilians carrying meager bundles of their belongings continued to stream out of the town of Sake a day after the Congolese national Army and an allied local militia tried – and failed – to retake the town from the M23 rebels.

Where those fleeing can go is unclear. Already tens of thousands of people displaced by the swirl of fighting are struggling to survive in makeshift camps studding the stony countryside.

The rebels pushed on with their offensive, capturing towns and villages around the regional capital Goma – which they have controlled without challenge since seizing it from Congo's ragtag military on Tuesday. Buoyed by their victory the rebels said they were going much farther – Congo's capital Kinshasa, a thousand miles to the west.

The continuing advance comes despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts to end the fighting.

As Goma fell, the three men who are widely seen as having played a central role in creating the conflict – and could play the key role to end it – met for talks at a luxury hotel on the shores of lake Victoria outside Uganda's capital Kampala.

On the one side was Congo's beleaguered president Joseph Kabila – who had just seen his army melt away and angry protestors torch his party offices in several cities. On the other side was Rwandan President Paul Kagame – the man whose own defense minister is in de facto command of the M23 rebels, according to the UN and Congo.

And somewhere in the middle was Uganda's wily leader Yoweri Museveni, a compromised mediator given that some senior Ugandan officials, including Mr. Museveni's own younger brother, have been accused by the UN of supporting the rebels.

Backing DRC?

At a hastily convened press conference on Wednesday the three presidents, looking weary after hours of talks, demanded the rebels stop fighting and pull out of Goma, while Museveni and President Kagame said they could not “entertain the idea of overthrowing the legitimate government of the DRC or undermining its authority.”

"Wherever they [M23] are we shall tell them to go back. The region is saying to them to go back ... and I can assure you they will go back," Museveni said.

For its part, the government of Congo said it would “look expeditiously into the causes of [the rebels'] discontent and address them as best as it can.” Mr. Kabila was noncommittal when asked about the possibility of direct negotiations – the rebels' major demand.

While the presidents seemed confident about stopping the violence, no one seemed to have told the rebels to stop fighting. Rebel leaders said they would not be withdrawing from Goma any time soon.

Museveni reportedly sent a chopper down to the Congo border on Thursday to spirit M23's political chief to Kampala for talks, and Kagame and Kabila are expected back in town over the weekend.

But whether Kabila will agree to negotiate face-to-face with the rebels remains the big question, say analysts.

“Given that the FARDC [Congo's Army] is not strong enough to defeat M23 it's not clear that he is in a position to block such an agreement. It may be his only choice,” says Laura Seay, a regional expert at Morehouse College in the US. “That said, Kabila only wants to deal with Rwanda, not the M23, as he sees Kigali as the source of M23's strength.”

And despite intense international pressure to find a solution, both sides remain far apart.

“It's hard to see what a negotiated solution would look like at this stage,” Ms. Seay says

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Congo rebels advance as regional leaders seek cease-fire
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today