Monday, 19 November 2012

Rebels Issue Ultimatum to Congo Forces in Goma

AppId is over the quota
AppId is over the quota
The rebel March 23 Movement, or M23, which has been fighting the Congolese government since April, reached the outskirts of Goma on Sunday night in some of the heaviest fighting since 2008 and issued an ultimatum to the government to announce direct negotiations with the group within 24 hours.

“To allow a peaceful exit,” a rebel statement on Monday morning said, the rebels also demanded “the complete demilitarization” of Goma and the international airport in eastern Congo, although U.N. peacekeepers would be allowed to stay.

Otherwise, the rebel group said, it reserved the right “to take all necessary measures,” including “following its its resistance against the government of Kinshasa up to its fall.”

On Sunday, a rebel spokesman had said that rebels had no intention of advancing on the city.

Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, is home to nearly one million people and United Nations peacekeepers who have a mandate to use force to protect civilians.

Goma remained largely quiet on Monday morning. Some shops were open, civilians there said, but Congo’s military spokesman said the army was digging in.

“We are now in a state of reinforcing our positions,” said Col. Olivier Hamuli.

Violence erupted between rebel forces and government troops last week and both sides claimed to have inflicted heavy losses although they provided no numbers. On Saturday, the rebels captured the town of Kibumba and continued to advance on Sunday. Despite ground battles with government troops and aerial strikes by United Nations helicopters on rebel positions, the insurgents pushed to within two miles of central Goma, long an objective in Congo’s 15-year civil war, displacing tens of thousands of people in a humanitarian camp.

“They were able to bypass all of the positions we had,” said the United Nations chief in Goma, Hiroute Guebre Sellasie. “We are not facing a conventional force.”

“The deadlock depends on so many things,” Ms. Guebre Sellasie said. “I cannot project what will happen in the next 24 hours.”

The M23 group is made up of soldiers from a former rebel army that signed a peace deal with the government on March 23, 2009, and was integrated into Congo’s national army. But last spring, hundreds of them mutinied, claiming that the government had failed to meet their demands under the 2009 agreement.

The figurehead of the group is believed to be Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel and high-ranking army officer wanted by the International Criminal Court to answer charges that he committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The rebellion broke out as Congo and foreign governments called for the arrest of General Ntaganda. Since then, Rwanda and Uganda have been accused by a United Nations panel of experts of aiding the rebel movement, a charge that both countries deny.

A new wave of fighting erupted last week, with the army claiming to have killed more than 150 rebels and the rebels capturing the town of Kibumba, about 18 miles from Goma.

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