Nov. 20 (GIN) – An insurgent group made up of mutineers from the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo has advanced to the provincial capital of Goma, and is poised to take power, throwing the region into a full-blown conflict and destabilization.
Fighters of the March 23 Movement (M23) entered Goma and are reportedly moving south toward Bukavu with minimal opposition from the U.N. peacekeepers, known by the acronym MONUSCO.
A senior UN source told the Reuters news agency that Congolese troops abandoned Goma, and UN peacekeepers were unable to put up a defense.
Col. Vianney Kazarama, a spokesman for M23, acknowledged their latest advance. “The Congolese national Army has let the town fall into our hands,” he told Reuters.
A source told the news agency: “There is no Army left in the town, not a soul … once the M23 was in the town what could we do? It could have been very serious for the population.” The U.N. says it has registered 5,000 refugees crossing into Uganda.
The Goma airport is a lifeline for the many aid organizations based there, as well as businesses. It sits across the street from the UN headquarters. If Goma falls, some fear that rebel foot soldiers will go on a rampage of looting and rape, particularly if the UN continues to appear ineffective.
The M23 offensive began after rebels demanded direct talks with the Congolese government. According to The Wall Street Journal, Lambert Mende, Congo’s information minister, ruled out direct talks with M23, saying the government “would rather speak to Rwanda, which is the real force behind the current offensive.”
The insurgent group defected this year after getting no response from the Joseph Kabila government to their demands for better pay and weapons. They chose the name M23 for the original peace deal that ended fighting in 2009.