Congo: threat of civil war after M23 rebels seize city of Goma

Nov 21, 2012

Militia group takes DR Congo city, prompting fears of further conflict in this 'haunted, blood-soaked' country

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THE STABILITY of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the fourth largest country in Africa, is said to be under threat after the eastern city of Goma, near the border with Rwanda, was taken by a rebel group known as M23.

Its troops walked into the regional capital, home to 1 million people, on Tuesday. Fears of a bloodbath were averted when the national army abandoned the city after four days of skirmishes on its outskirts. UN peacekeepers, a hangover from previous civil wars in the region, did not act to stop the rebels and watched as they paraded through the city.

The rebel group was formed in April 2012 when a group of soldiers mutinied against Joseph Kabila's DR Congo government.

Most were members of a former militia group in the conflict in the eastern Kivu region of Congo who signed a peace treaty with the government on 23 March 2009 – hence the name M23 - and were integrated into the official army.

This year's mutiny is said to have been led by war crimes suspect Bosco 'The Terminator' Ntaganda, among others.

Since April the M23 militia has been active in the east of Congo. "[It] has been accused of killings, rapes and recruiting child soldiers," says The Guardian.

M23 is a primarily Tutsi group and is widely believed to be backed by the Rwandan government.

According to The Times. "M23 commanders have threatened to continue their rout and march first on Bukavu, another major eastern city, and then to fight the Government 'until it falls'." Beyond that their goals appear unclear.

M23's target could be valuable minerals, says the New York Times. "Many diplomats and others have always suspected... that the rebels' true aim was to carve out a sphere of influence within eastern Congo that would allow them to control the lucrative mineral trade and to stay close to Rwandan business and military contacts."

The militia also provide Rwanda with a "buffer" against Hutu groups who fled the country after the 1994 genocide, says the BBC. "As long as the Hutu militias are in DR Congo, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who helped end the genocide, will stop at nothing, not even threats of international sanctions, to have a presence on Congolese soil."

Goma itself appears peaceful, but it is now "a rebel capital, just as it was during Congo's last civil war between 1998 and 2003," says The Daily Telegraph.

And its future is unclear. "Some in Goma fear that, once international attention is diverted, the rebels will commit abuses that have previously earned condemnation from the UN and human rights groups. Tens of thousands of people have fled neighbouring villages and refugee camps, prompting warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe," says The Guardian.

The world must now wait to see whether the M23 rebels fulfill their pledge to march on Bukavu.

Possibly. The region has a troubled past and the New York Times says the fall of Goma could be "history repeating itself in a country with one of the most haunted, blood-soaked histories in Africa".

The Kinshasa government is now in "tailspin" and other parts of the country could descend into chaos, "fulfilling all the grim prophecies that Congo is simply too vast and too complicated to be one country".

The Times of London reminds us: "The last time Rwanda-backed rebels seized Goma, in 1998, it triggered a regional conflagration that involved eight countries and led to the deaths of five million people, mostly from hunger and disease."

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