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DRC Rebels Advance to Goma Outskirts

People jog past a sign, with a message by the M23 movement in their campaign against rampant corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in an area under controlled of the Congolese Revolutionary Army (CRA) in Rutshuru town, November 3, 2012.
The M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have advanced to within a few miles of the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, sending regular army troops fleeing.

In two days of fighting, the M23 rebels have routed the Congolese army, but have stopped short of attacking Goma. Some reports say they have withdrawn from positions they captured on Sunday and are back where they were late Saturday, 30 kilometers from the provincial capital.

The past two days of fighting follow the breakdown of a nearly three-month ceasefire on Thursday, when government troops claimed victory.

International Crisis Group analyst Thierry Vircoulon said, "The M23 launched a counter offensive on Saturday. They stopped fighting in the afternoon on Saturday and restarted the offensive very early in the morning on Sunday, and they reached the doorstep of Goma on Sunday."

Goma resident Augustin Musabyimana says the fighting forced people to flee a refugee camp at Kanyarucinya, about 10 kilometers from the city's center.

The camp at Kanyarucinya was on the move, Musabyimana says, and government soldiers from the front were heading to the west of Goma, as the soldiers north of Goma were collecting their families and fleeing. He says there were many soldiers on the road, some commandeering private cars to get away.

U.N. radio in the DRC, Radio Okapi, says the Army has sent reinforcements from South Kivu province to Goma. Radio Okapi says Army tanks and U.N. armored vehicles were guarding the approaches to Goma late Sunday.

But a spokesman for civil society in North Kivu, Omar Kavota, says the M23 has anti-tank weapons and that he is unsure tanks could stop them.

According to Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group, or ICG, the Army put up little resistance to the M23. He says helicopters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, have taken part in the fighting.

Analysts say the M23’s military force, the so-called Congolese Revolutionary Army, probably has a maximum of 2,500 men. The Army is believed to have about 30,000 soldiers in North Kivu province and the United Nations has about 6,000 peacekeepers there.

A U.N. report says Rwanda has supported the M23 with recruits, arms, ammunition and other supplies, and at times Rwandan army units fight alongside the rebels. U.N. experts say Ugandan officials also have been helping the rebels.

Rwanda and Uganda vigorously deny the allegations.