Insight: Congo army debacle at Goma raises specter of betrayal

Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:08am EST
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By Jonny Hogg and Ed Stoddard

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - When Congo's government army retreated in panic from the eastern city of Goma last month, many observers blamed the poor morale and leadership, ill discipline and corruption that have sapped its fighting capacity for years.

In the hours before Goma fell to M23 rebels on November 20, drunk and terrified Congolese soldiers roamed the streets or huddled in doorways before melting away, witnesses said.

M23's 11-day occupation of the city was one of the worst battlefield defeats for Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces (FARDC), which at 150,000-strong are among the largest in Africa. They are also backed by 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers.

As recriminations swirl over the Goma defeat, which forced President Joseph Kabila to accept talks with a group he says is a creation of Rwanda, allegations have emerged that betrayal in the army's ranks may have precipitated the rout.

The government has launched an investigation but says it has reached no conclusions; little evidence has come to light beyond anonymous allegations against officers from subordinates who accuse their commanders of selling them out. The general blamed by some denies any such deals with rebels he once commanded.

But the scandal alone shows how deep suspicion runs within an army that has absorbed successive waves of former enemies as a series of civil wars has ended.

One senior FARDC officer who fought the M23 uprising said he believed Goma was lost because of what he called sabotage of the army's fighting capability.

"All of our intelligence was given to M23," the officer alleged, saying that throughout the fighting "there was intense communications with them" from within the government ranks.   Continued...

Congolese Revolution Army (CRA) rebel leader Sultani Makenga sits in a truck 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/Files