News / Africa

    Tens of Thousands Flee M23 Fighting Near Goma

    Displaced families flee renewed fighting between the Congolese Revolutionary Army (CRA) and Congolese army in Mugunga, near Goma, November 22, 2012.
    Displaced families flee renewed fighting between the Congolese Revolutionary Army (CRA) and Congolese army in Mugunga, near Goma, November 22, 2012.
    Gabe Joselow
    Tens of thousands of people fled fighting Thursday near the town of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

    As fighting raged in the hills above the town of Sake, west of Goma, its residents hit the road.

    Mothers carried their children, others pushed bicycles, held mattresses, or pulled goats behind them. More than a few shook their machetes at a group of foreign journalists observing the exodus from the side of the road.

    DRC M23 Rebels:

    • M23 fighters were once loyal to a rebel army that assimilated into the national army of Congo in a 2009 peace deal
    • Hundreds of former rebel army members mutinied earlier this year, complaining that the government had not fulfilled promises of better pay and weapons
    • From the mutineers, the M23 - named for the March 23, 2009 peace deal - emerged
    • A U.N. report said there are indications the rebels are getting outside aid. U.N. experts say Rwanda and Uganda are backing M23. Both Countries deny this
    • The U.N. Security Council is considering sanctions on M23 leaders and has demanded an end to "all outside support" of the group
    • Experts say a driving force behind the regional conflict are deposits of tin, gold, tungsten, and coltan, a mineral used in laptops and mobile phones in eastern Congo, where M23 operates
    Soldiers from the rebel group M23 claimed to have taken control of Sake a day earlier, their most recent conquest in a campaign to seize territory in eastern Congo, including the commercial hub of Goma.

    But, according to residents fleeing Sake, the rebels have started to face resistance from other rebel groups operating in the area.

    This woman, who declined to give her name, blamed the Congolese army for failing to protect the town.

    “This morning we just saw the M23 occupy the nearby hill,” she said.  “Right now they have started fighting with the militia group. The government troops are not here, because they have run away.”

    M23 sent reinforcements to Sake on Thursday. Civilians from the area said the rebels had retreated somewhat from the town by late afternoon.

    The rebel group seized control of Goma on Monday, after pushing back Congolese army units who were supported by United Nations peacekeepers.  

    While Goma has been mostly peaceful since the rebel takeover, tensions are still high.

    Photo Gallery: Rebels in Goma

    • M23 rebels guard weapons given to them by the government's army, Goma, DRC, November 21, 2012.
    • A Congo government policeman hands in his weapon to M23 rebels during an M23 rally in Goma, DRC, November 21, 2012.
    • Congo government policemen, foreground, and civilians gather during a M23 rally in Goma, Congo, November 21, 2012.
    • A M23 fighter, wearing a belt of ammunition, walks down a street in Goma, after the rebels captured the city from the government army, November 20, 2012.
    • People walk the streets of Goma, DRC during a lull in the fighting, November 20, 2012. (VOA 100 Citoyens journalistes de RD Congo)
    • M23 rebels in the streets of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 20, 2012. (A. Malivika/VOA)
    • M23 rebels enter Goma, November 20, 2012. (A. Malivika/VOA)
    • M23 rebels celebrating their takeover of Goma, DRC, November 20, 2012. (A. Malivika/VOA)
    • M23 spokesperson Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama entering Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, November 20, 2012. (A. Malivika/VOA)
    • M23 Rebels patrolling in Goma, DRC, November 20, 2012. (A. Malivika/VOA)
    In a statement Thursday, the aid group Oxfam warned of the “very real risk” of state collapse in eastern Congo that could push the humanitarian crisis to “new depths.”

    The fighting around Goma has displaced at least 60,000 people on top of hundreds of thousands already displaced by chronic violence perpetrated by armed groups in the region.

    Meantime, the residents of the area are waiting to see M23's next move. The rebels have vowed to press on south around Lake Kivu to the town of Bukavu.

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