DR Congo's M23 Rebels Refuse To Withdraw From Goma

The rebel March 23 Movement (M23) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday rejected calls made by central African governments to withdraw from the eastern city of Goma they has seized two days ago, and demanded immediate talks with Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

Jean-Marie Runiga, the head of M23's political arm, told reporters that the rebel group intended to remain in Goma while awaiting talks with the DRC president. He also warned that M23 fighters will defended themselves and keep advancing if attacked by Congolese forces.

A day earlier, President Kabila had said that he would study the M23 demands and consider negotiating with them. The rebels insist that the DRC government had failed to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal which promised them army posts.

Incidentally, the M23 rebels had met little resistance from the Congolese army or UN peacekeepers as they entered Goma on Tuesday. Most of Goma's residents as well as Congolese troops had fled the city ahead of the arrival of rebel fighters. The rebels have since captured the nearby town of Sake as well.

Soon after the M23 rebels captured Goma, President Kabila flew to the Ugandan capital city of Kigali for talks with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. In a joint statement issued after their talks, the three leaders called on the M23 to "immediately stop [its] offensive and pull out of Goma."

The UN's peacekeeping mission in the DRC, better known by the French acronym MONUSCO, is continuing to hold its positions in Goma "to protect civilians from imminent threat." The world body said it has received reports indicating that the M23 has destroyed and looted property, wounded civilians and abducted children and women from Goma.

Subsequently, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution late Wednesday, condemning the the latest wave of attacks by the M23 rebel group. The Council also demanded the immediate withdrawal of the rebel group from Goma and called for sanctions against M23 leaders. Further, it demanded that "any and all outside support to the M23 cease immediately."

Earlier on Wednesday, the rebel forces had threatened to advance towards the country's capital city of Kinshasa and topple the government of President Kabila. M23 spokesman Lt Col Vianney Kazarama reportedly told a crowd of several thousand at a football stadium in Goma that the rebel group had begun its efforts to liberate the country from President Kabila's rule.

The M23, comprising mainly soldiers who mutinied from the DRC national army in April as well as members of a former Congolese Tutsi rebel group, had launched new attacks over the weekend in North Kivu province. The rebel offensive displaced some 60,0000 civilians and prompting MONUSCO to deploy attack helicopters in aid of the Congolese national army.

UN peace-keepers were first sent to DR Congo in 1999 as part of international efforts to end the 1999-2002 civil war and establish peace in the region. The fighting had dragged in six other countries and left more than four million people dead.

MONUSCO, with 19,000 uniformed personnel, is the latest iteration of UN peacekeeping missions deployed in DR Congo. In late June, the UN Security Council extended the mission's mandate for one more year.

A report released by UN experts on Wednesday had accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23 rebel group. The report alleged that the rebel movement is being commanded by Rwandan Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe. It also accused both Rwanda and Uganda of sending troops to support the M23 rebels in their fight against Congolese government troops.

The report was discussed by the UN Security Council on Wednesday. Both Rwanda and Uganda had denied the allegations earlier after the report was leaked last month. Notably, M23 rebels as well as members of the Rwandan government are mostly ethnic Tutsis.

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