28 November 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: DRC M 23 Rebels Begin Pulling Out of Goma

Photo: Jessica Hatcher/IRIN
Congolese Red Cross team collecting dead bodies drive through rebel-held Goma.

The UN yesterday November 28 confirmed that rebels had begun pulling out of Goma.

After initially posing conditions for withdrawing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC eastern city of Goma that they overran last week, M 23 rebels yesterday November 28, 2012 began pulling out. This is sequel to an agreement reached last weekend in Uganda by regional leaders.

Speaking to reporters in New York on Tuesday November 27, 2012, UN Peacekeeping Chief, Hervé Ladsous, said there were signs the rebels were already pulling out of the border city or preparing to do so, the AFP news agency reported. Ladsous however said the withdrawal could only be confirmed by the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC. He announced that the UN's main military advisor, General Babacar Gaye, was heading for the DRC and other East African countries to work out details of the withdrawal deal.

Ladsous said this would include the working out of a proposed neutral zone that includes Goma Airport currently in the hands of the UN mission, MONUSCO. Gen. Gaye will also discuss the setting up of the proposed international neutral force for DRC. The rebels had agreed to withdraw to positions 20 km north of Goma under a deal struck in the Ugandan capital, Kampala on November 26, 2012 with an East African regional group. M 23's military leader, Sultani Makenga, had earlier announced that his men agreed to leave Goma by today, November 29, 2012. But there was confusion as they later set conditions that were immediately rejected by DRC authorities.

The UN has warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in the mineral-rich North Kivu region, following last week's rebel capture of Goma. UN officials said prisoners in Goma were at large and threatening people. And while it seemed relatively calm during the day, there were robberies and abductions at night. Aid officials say the recent fighting has rendered camps for people displaced by earlier conflicts inaccessible, with food and medicines running short.

M 23 rebels are named after the March 23, 2009 peace accord which they accuse the Congolese government of violating. The deal saw them join the army before taking up arms once more in April 2012. Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, the rebels draw their support mostly from Congo's minority Tutsi ethnic group and are believed to have about 1,200 to 6,000 fighters. M 23 is known to be backed by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda. Some five million people died during the 1997-2003 DR Congo conflict that drew in several regional countries.

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