20 November 2012

Cameroon: M23 Rebels Enter Goma in D.R. Congo

They entered the city early on Tuesday morning, taking over the airport.

After days of accusations and counter-accusations between authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and Rwanda about support for M23 rebels, the insurgents yesterday November 20, 2012 entered the eastern provincial town of Goma.

The BBC said its correspondent in the town saw what seemed to be a column of rebel fighters entering central Goma, capital of North Kivu Province and the main city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He said he saw them exchange small arms fire with the UN-backed Congolese army. Though the commander of United Nations peacekeepers in DRC, Lt. Gen. Chandar Prakash, said the rebels had tried to attack his forces at the local airport, but had been repelled, there were reports that Goma Airport had actually fallen to the rebels. Al Jazeera TV quoted a UN source in the town as confirming the take over of the airport by M23 rebels.

Some rebels used the cover of civilian houses to bypass the UN base at the airport to enter the town, Lt. Gen. Prakash explained. Reuters news agency reported that M23 fighters advanced on foot along the road to the city centre, the first clear evidence that they had entered Goma after days of fighting on the outskirts. Sustained light-arms fire could be heard from the city and airport. Streams of residents headed for the nearby border with Rwanda, saying the army had ordered them to evacuate.

The rebel advance came after they fired mortars on the outskirts of Goma, the provincial capital, threatening to capture the city. According to UN officials, shells landed near Goma International Airport and a United Nations position, prompting the UN to evacuate most of its employees. Yesterday's violence erupted just hours after M23 rebels said they were halting fighting to negotiate with the government.

But Lambert Mende, government spokesman, told the Associated Press news agency that negotiations were out of the question, saying the DRC will not give in to what he described as the blackmail of the Rwandan-backed group. He said it was Rwanda, not the M23, that was responsible for the fighting, adding that if they negotiated with rebels, it would be a way of washing away Rwanda's responsibility.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have already fought two wars, the most recent of which ended in 2003 after lasting nearly six years. On Monday November 19, 2012, both nations accused each other of firing mortars across the narrow border which runs on one side of Goma, a city of one million that is the economic heart of Congo's mineral rich region.

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