Goma rebels say they will "liberate" all Congo

Wed Nov 21, 2012 4:23pm EST
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By Jonny Hogg

SAKE/GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Rebel forces in eastern Congo vowed on Wednesday to "liberate" all of the vast central African country as they began seizing towns near the Rwandan border and spoke of a 1,000-mile march to the capital Kinshasa.

The M23 rebels, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, captured the eastern city of Goma on Tuesday, a provincial capital home to a million people; United Nations peacekeepers simply looked on, after Congolese troops had quit the town.

Regional leaders called on the rebels to halt their advance and Congo's President Joseph Kabila appeared to soften his stand on Wednesday, saying he would look in to rebel grievances as the insurgents extended their reach.

"The journey to liberate Congo has started now," Vianney Kazarama, spokesman for the rebel group, told a crowd of more than 1,000 at a stadium in Goma. "We're going to move on to Bukavu, and then to Kinshasa. Are you ready to join us?

Hours later, a rebel unit took control of Sake, a strategic town near Goma on the road running the length of Lake Kivu to Bukavu, 100 km (60 miles) away. In the 1990s, the current president's father burst out of the same area at the head of a rebel force to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko.

A Reuters correspondent in Sake saw heavily armed rebels in control of the town and no sign of fighting. The bodies of four uniformed men and one in civilian clothing lay by the road. Locals inspected shelled buildings, burned out cars and a tank abandoned by the Kinshasa government's FARDC army.

The government in Kinshasa issued a statement on Wednesday admitting it had lost the battle but pledging to win the war: "Victory will be ours. That is what the Congolese want."

RWANDAN ROLE   Continued...

Congolese Revolution Army (CRA) rebels sit in a truck as they patrol a street in Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 20, 2012, soon after the rebels captured the city from the government army. REUTERS/James Akena