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Have M23 Rebels Really Left Goma, DRC?

Recurrent violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent decades has eroded the political, social and economic foundations of society. The Eastern region is even more weakened by the periodic fighting between armed rebels and the Congolese army that has flaired up again in 2012.

The conflict in the Kivus region this year is a continuation of a war between M23 rebels, essentially composed of mutineer Tutsi soldiers against the majority-Hutu Congolese army. Backed by the Rwandan government, the M23 rebels seized control of the city of Goma in the Kivu region, near the Rwandan border.

Despite reports that the rebellion have agreed to pull out of Goma, it seems that there is still a great deal of uncertainty over when they will effectively do so, and whether they might return. Melanie Gouby of the Associated Press reports on the extremely fluid timeline for the withdrawal:

The delay raises the possibility that the M23 rebels don't intend to leave the city they seized last week, giving credence to a U.N. expert report that says neighboring Rwanda is using the rebels as a proxy to annex territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo. An M23 spokesman said Friday morning that for “logistical reasons” the rebels needed 48 more hours to complete their withdrawal, promising that the fighters would leave Goma by Sunday.

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma, after they captured it in November 2012

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma, after they captured it (November 29, 2012) Voice of America via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

A follow-up report states that the rebels have begun to pull out and that the retreat is near completion:

Ugandan Brig. Jeffrey Muheesi, who is part of a mission sent by regional leaders to oversee the rebel retreat, said the rebels’ pullout from Goma was complete. ”They have pulled out of Sake and Goma, and now Congolese government policemen are controlling the central bank, the governor's office and the border post,” he said from the outskirts of Goma.

Eyewitnesses say that while in Goma, M23 rebels looted the city, entering homes and shops and stealing cars, cell phones and cash. Radio Okapi reports [fr]:

Les rebelles du M23 ont pillé plusieurs habitations et bâtiments de Goma le jeudi 29 novembre dans la journée. Ce butin aurait été acheminé vers Kibumba, futur quartier général du M23, à près de 30 Km de Goma. Ce sont notamment les quartiers Katindo, Katoyi et Keshero qui ont été pillés par ces hommes en uniforme. La plupart des édifices publics, par contre, ont été épargnés puisque gardés par les forces de la Mission des Nations unies en RDC (Monusco) à Goma.

The M23 rebels broke into several homes and buildings in Goma on Thursday, November 29. Their loot was transported to Kibumba, their next HQ, 30km from Goma. The looting was carried out by men in uniform mostly in the borough of Katindo, Katoyi and Keshero. The administrative offices were left alone mostly because the UN MONUSCO forces were protecting them.

A sustainable solution to the conflict is evidently wanting. For now, the International Crisis Group recommends the following measures including these initiatives:

  • the reactivation of an effective and permanent joint verification mechanism for the DRC and Rwandan border, as envisaged by the ICGLR, which should be provided with the necessary technical and human resources;
  • the addition of the individuals and entities that supported the M23 and other armed groups to the UN sanctions list and the consideration of an embargo on weapons sales to Rwanda
  • the launch of local peace initiatives in Walikale, Masisi, Shabunda and Kalehe areas where ethnic tension is high by MONUSCO and the government

Given the Rwandan support of M23 and despite the UN recommendation that M23 pulls out of Goma, it is unclear whether M23 will ever fully withdraw from the city.

Meanwhile, the M23 were evicted from Facebook last week. Before then Gabriella Mulligan on Humanipo wondered how long a rebel group would be allowed to recruit and tease the Congolese government on the social network, and Trésor Kibungula on Jeune Afrique illustrated their social media evolution [fr].

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