People displaced by recent fighting in eastern Congo wait
to receive aid food in Mugunga IDP camp outside of Goma.
Photo by Reuters
African leaders have called on eastern rebels in
Democratic Republic of Congo to abandon their aim of toppling
the government and leave the city of Goma they captured this
The appeal came from heads of state of the central African
Great Lakes region who fear that if left unchecked the
offensive by the M23 rebels could drag the volatile,
ethnically-diverse and mineral-rich region back into another
A statement signed by the regional leaders meeting in the
Ugandan capital Kampala urged the M23 to abandon its threat
to overthrow the elected government in Kinshasa and to "stop
all war activities and withdraw from Goma".
It proposed deploying a joint force at Goma airport
comprising of a company of neutral African troops, a company
of the Congolese army (FARDC) and a company of the M23.
The leaders told M23 "to withdraw from current positions to
not less than 20km from Goma town within two days", but did
not say what the consequences would be if the rebels did not
The rebel M23 movement, which has announced it intends to
"liberate" all of Congo and march on the capital Kinshasa
1000 miles to the west, said it was still waiting to hear
back from its political representative who was in Kampala.
But it expressed initial scepticism about a proposed joint
deployment in Goma that included government troops returning.
"Will the population accept that? I doubt it. The population
sees that M23 has changed things. With the (Congolese army)
it was just harassment," M23 military spokesman Vianney
Kazarama told Reuters.
Regional and international leaders are scrambling to halt the
fighting in eastern Congo, fuelled by a mix of local and
regional politics, ethnic rifts and competition for large
reserves of gold, tin and coltan. The region has suffered
multiple uprisings and invasions over the last 20 years.
The meeting in Kampala brought together Congo's President
Joseph Kabila and the heads of state of Uganda, Kenya and
But Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has vehemently denied
accusations by Congo and U.N. experts that his government is
supplying, supporting and directing the M23 rebellion, did
not attend the summit, although he sent his foreign minister.
As the regional leaders met in Uganda, the Congolese
government army reinforced its positions southwest of
rebel-held Goma, in what appeared to be a move to block any
further advance by the insurgents, who have routed Congolese
army forces backed by United Nations peacekeepers.
The Great Lakes heads of state also proposed that U.N.
peacekeepers present in and around Goma should provide
security in a neutral zone between Goma and the new areas
seized by M23.
They said police that were disarmed in Goma by the rebels
should also be re-armed so they can resume working.
GOMA SITUATION "A MESS"
In the Congolese capital Kinshasa, authorities banned
protests, citing the need to keep order in what national
police chief Charles Bisengimana called a "undeclared state
Goma was calm on Saturday, but UK-based international charity
Oxfam said the city's resources were being strained by the
influx of more than 100,000 people displaced by the recent
fighting, many of them taking shelter in schools and
"The Goma situation is a mess .. we've just got the green
light to set up another camp, because all the other sites are
full already," Tariq Riebl, Oxfam's humanitarian programme
coordinator, told Reuters.
Riebl said M23 was allowing Oxfam to operate.
"The main thing is access, and we have that. They (the
rebels) are not al Shabaab or the Taliban," he said.
Goma has been a regional HQ for the U.N. peacekeeping mission
in Congo, known as MONUSCO, which has a 17,000 strong force
across the huge country. MONUSCO is tasked with assisting
government troops keep the peace and protect civilians.
MONUSCO has faced criticism inside and outside Congo for not
doing enough to halt the rebels when the Congolese army fled
Goma, but U.N. officials have argued it is not the mandate of
the U.N. peacekeepers to directly engage the insurgents.
U.N. helicopter gunships fired at the rebels but were unable
to beat them back at Goma, U.N. officials said.
Congolese government troops attempted a counter-offensive
against the advancing rebels this week but were forced to
pull back to the town of Minova on Lake Kivu, leaving a trail
of soldiers' bodies and abandoned equipment in their wake.
"We are going to defend Minova, but we'll also try to push
back the rebels," Congo army (FARDC) spokesman Olivier Hamuli
said. Reinforcements were on their way to the front, he said.
M23 forces moved south through the hills towards Minova, in a
strategic position on the road to Bukavu, the capital of
South Kivu province. The rebels have said that Bukavu is
their next objective and have vowed to sweep across the vast
nation to Kinshasa if Kabila does not agree to talks.
Kabila, who has said he is willing to hear the rebels'
grievances, appointed a new interim head of ground forces
late on Friday.
General Francois Olenga Tete takes over from former army boss
General Gabriel Amisi, who was suspended on Thursday over
charges he had sold arms to other eastern rebels.
A MONUSCO spokesperson in Goma said around 10 women were
raped in Minova by retreating Congolese soldiers.
The Congolese army, FARDC, said some soldiers had been
arrested and sent to Bukavu for looting and extortion, but it
denied there had been rapes.