Congo rebels seize eastern city as U.N. forces look on

Tue Nov 20, 2012 3:31pm EST
 

By Jonny Hogg

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Rebels widely believed to be backed by Rwanda seized the eastern Congolese town of Goma on Tuesday, parading past United Nations peacekeepers who gave up the battle for the frontier city of one million people.

As the leaders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo were due to meet for crisis talks in Uganda, France called for a review of the local U.N. mandate, saying it was "absurd" that a substantial force, made up of troops from India, South Africa and Uruguay, had failed to hold off a few hundred rebels.

The rebel takeover of Goma came after days of clashes between the M23 movement and U.N.-backed Congolese soldiers that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee, raising fears of human rights abuses in the sprawling lakeside city.

The M23 rebellion has aggravated tensions between Congo and its neighbor Rwanda, which Kinshasa's government says is orchestrating the insurgency as a means of grabbing the chaotic region's mineral wealth. Rwanda denies the assertion.

As night fell in the town, the capital of North Kivu province, gunfire had died down and the streets were largely deserted, apart from some rebel patrols on the streets.

The capture of Goma will be an embarrassment for Congo's President Joseph Kabila, who won re-election late last year in polls that provoked widespread riots. There were pockets of demonstrations against the fall of Goma in other towns.

A senior U.N. source told Reuters that international peacekeepers gave up defending Goma after the Congolese troops evacuated under pressure from the advancing rebels.

"There is no army left in the town, not a soul," he said, asking not to be named. "Once they were in the town, what could we do? It could have been very serious for the population."   Continued...

 
Displaced people cross the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into Rwanda, November 20, 2012, as the Congolese Revolutionary Army fights with the DRC government army on the periphery of Goma, the capital of Congo's North Kivu province. Rwanda accused U.N.-backed Congolese forces of shelling its territory during a battle with rebels near the border on Monday but said it had no plans to respond militarily to what it called Kinshasa's "provocation". REUTERS/James Akena