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In Eastern DRC, Rebels Take Advantage of Experience and Terrain

The fighting between government troops and rebels in the eastern DRC continues, as thousands of civilians flee the area looking for safe haven. Reporter Kari Barber is in Goma monitoring developments. She spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about fighting between government forces and those loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

“The fighting is still pretty heavy…the government offensive…started about December 3rd, December 4th, the government began their offensive against the renegade general, Laurent Nkunda. The government had some success in the first few days. But then after that, many of those positions they took the rebels then retook in the past week. There have been a lot of rebel advances. They’ve taken back territory and the city that the government had taken and they’ve even gone a little bit further in some places. For example in the city of Mushake, a key city, which the government had taken back, the rebels are now on the hills around the city,” she says.

Barber says this could turn into a protracted military campaign for the government. “Of course the government was optimistic. They had 20,000 soldiers against Nkunda’s estimated 4,000 rebels…they came in with a lot of firepower and were talking about mortars and rockets and AK-47s, a lot of ammunition…became quite confident after some early victories. And then the rebels took advantage when they were not expecting it…rebels worked in more difficult times, for example, during the rain and during the night when the army was not prepared. The rebels know this territory better. A lot of this is territory they’ve had for a while…so this does look like this is not going to be an easy victory,” she says.

As for government forces, Barber says, “The army has the support, some support, of the UN mission here in some ways. But this is also a new army. And this is an army that has very little money and has not had a lot of time to coordinate their efforts.”

The rebels have not been answering their phone to talk to reporters of late. The government says the offensive will continue and that it will be victorious.

Barber says she’s seen thousands of people this week fleeing areas where the fighting is taking place. Many are going to Goma or to camps for the displaced. The UNHCR is trying to determine how many people need help and what kind of help.