Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Rwanda: Goma Residents Welcome New Authorities

"Should we march to Kisangani?"

"Yes!"

"Should we march to Bukavu?"

"Yes!"

"Should we march to Kinshasa?"

"Yes!"

That was Col. Jean Marie Vianny Kazarama, the M23 spokesperson addressing hundreds of Congolese locals during the first speech issued by the rebels a day after the rebels took Goma town.

The locals were seen jubilating and many, especially the business community, almost with emotional relief that they have managed to return and find their property intact.

On Wednesday morning, the M23 rebels opened the gates to thousands of returning locals who had fled to the nearby towns of Rwanda for fear of being caught in cross fire. Many of them were carrying merchandise bought from the Rwandan side.

On Tuesday night, hours after Goma fell, the rebels took to the radio and TV in North Kivu Province to call upon soldiers and policemen who had fled to assemble at the stadium on Wednesday morning and surrender their guns and uniforms. The Rwanda Focus attended the meeting held at around 11.

Goma citizens gathered in their thousands at the sports stadium, braving the early morning downpour. And when Kazarama took to the stage to speak, he fed his audience on revolutionary talk, making promises of a better life, security and health and condemned Joseph Kabila's government for being dishonest, urging people to support what he called the revolution.

"He lies to you, look at your roads; join and cooperate with us and everything will be alright," Kazarama promised to loud applause of his audience.

He also warned anyone against participating in violence, saying that M23 was not going to tolerate any such acts as attributed to the government soldiers and leaders under Kabila.

After his speech, people were visibly reassured and many rushed to be recruited to join M23 ranks. The Rwanda Focus counted over a hundred young men and two young girls who were assembled awaiting further instructions.

"I have joined because I have seen M23 are good and peaceful," said one young man.

Another recruit, one of the few girls to line up, said she wants to be part of the revolution to bring peace in her home town of Goma.

UN Peacekeepers

Yet on the roads, small groups of people could be seen discussing the new situation, many still undecided as to what to do. Claude Mazembe, 24, had just returned from Rubavu where he had fled with his friends on Sunday after gun fire intensified. "I am not yet sure whether I should join them, but it's seems the only solution to survive," he said.

At the vicinity of Goma Airport, which was still not yet operational on Wednesday, kids were playing among the volcanic rocks as their parents looked on with a worried look. Several meters away, four bullet shells were lying among the rocks.

Nearby, a white UN tanker stood idle, its driver looking bored. It was the same for four UN peacekeepers sitting in a small guard house at the airport. They seemed to have no idea what their role here is after the government soldiers they were supporting fled. "We shall sit like we are now to observe, wait and earn," said one peace keeper with a cheeky grin on his face.

Their bosses at the UN Security Council have not taken matters as lightly, demanding that M23 leave Goma and threatening sanctions against its leaders. The rebels, for their part, seem not impressed. One of them said that their commanders haven't issued any orders indicating they will vacate Goma.

"Who is UN - the ones who were shooting and bombing us, they are now the ones telling us to vacate?" he wondered.

Defections

And M23 is taking control of the situation. When they entered the town on Tuesday, one of the first things they did was to lock shops the owners of which had fled without locking, in order to avoid looting. "I closed my store but I was still worried I might find it looted but this morning when I returned, everything was as I left it," said Makey Kusiima a Ugandan operating a spare parts shop in Goma.

In general, Goma residents seem to accept the M23 rebels. "We all want peace and if the rebels have given the people peace then why not support them," remarked Fabris, a hotel receptionist.

A middle-aged policeman who had handed handed himself over to the rebels on Wednesday morning agreed. "We are going with the flow and right now, it's the M23. I have not been paid my salary for three years and I am tired," he said.

The rebels claim over 2500 police and Government soldiers have already defected to their ranks and that they will soon deploy them in new areas under M23 command. With the North Kivu capital of Goma in rebel control, they will obviously need enough soldiers to hold onto the captured areas. Already, many of the town's residents are wondering whether the government will give up Goma so easily.

The loyalty of the defected government soldiers might be doubted but rebels we have talked to say they are sure their methods of work will win them support. "We have a very good commander and after a month of security, they will have full confidence in our leadership," assured an M23 rebel.

Right now, the police officers who have reported themselves to the rebels have agreed to help maintain order.

What happens in the next few days or weeks will certainly depend on how the M23 rebels react to ongoing diplomatic negotiations, both regionally and internationally. Already, after a tripartite meeting in Kampala between Presidents Kagame, Kabila and Museveni, the three heads of state called on M23 to leave Goma. The Congolese President for his part announced he is ready to negotiate with the rebels.

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