Congo army fights back, rebels hold Goma

Thu Nov 22, 2012 5:24pm EST
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By Jonny Hogg and Richard Lough

SAKE/GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Congolese troops fought back on Thursday against rebels who rejected calls from African leaders to quit the eastern city of Goma, captured earlier this week in a major upset that forced U.N. troops to withdraw.

Thousands of people fled the area of clashes around the town of Sake, as M23 rebel fighters rushed from Goma to reinforce their positions against an army counter-offensive.

Both sides claimed control of Sake as night fell on the troubled eastern area. There was no independent verification of who was holding the town.

The M23 rebel movement, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, has vowed to "liberate" all of the vast, resource-rich country after taking Goma, a provincial capital on the Rwandan border, ramping up tensions in a fragile region.

With Congo struggling to regroup its fractured army, President Joseph Kabila suspended the head of ground forces following allegations leveled by a United Nations panel of experts that he sold weapons to other armed groups in the east.

"The head of state decided to immediately suspend General Major Gabriel Amisi due to an inquiry. Other officers of lower ranks will also be investigated by the army," Information Minister Lambert Mende said.

The head of M23's political arm, Jean-Marie Runiga, said the rebels would not retreat despite the call to do so from governments in central Africa, preferring to hold their ground until Kabila opens direct talks with them.

"We'll stay in Goma waiting for negotiations," Runiga told Reuters in the city. "They're going to attack us and we're going to defend ourselves and keep on advancing."   Continued...

Congolese Revolution Army (CRA) rebels sit in a truck as they patrol a street in Sake, 25 km (15.5 miles) north of Goma city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 21, 2012, soon after the rebels captured the town from the government army. The United Nations defended its failed effort to prevent rebels from seizing the Congolese city of Goma, saying on Wednesday its helicopters had fired hundreds of rockets at rebels but were unable to beat them back when their forces sharply increased. Advancing M23 rebels seized the city on Tuesday after soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo's army fled. REUTERS/James Akena