DRC Army Takes Control Of Goma After Rebel Pullout

Security forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) took control of the city of Goma on Monday after the conditional withdrawal of fighters belonging to the Tutsi-led M23 rebel movement from the city, media reports said citing local officials.

The M23 rebels seized Goma, capital of North Kivu province, on November 20 after launching a new wave of attacks that displaced more than 140,000 civilians. The group initially stated that it would withdraw from Goma only after talks with DRC President Joseph Kabila Kabange, insisting that his government had failed to honor the terms of a 2009 peace agreement.

But they withdrew from Goma under the watchful eyes of peacekeepers from the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) over the weekend, as demanded by African leaders who attended the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region Summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala late last month.

MONUSCO, with 19,000 uniformed personnel, is the latest iteration of U.N. peacekeeping missions deployed in DR Congo. U.N. peace-keepers were first sent to DR Congo in 1999 as part of international efforts to end the 1999-2002 civil war and restore peace in the region. The fighting had dragged in six other countries and left more than four million people dead.

The M23 rebels have now based themselves in a 20-kilometer buffer zone around Goma, as demanded by the regionally-brokered deal. Nevertheless, the rebels have warned that they will recapture the city if the Congolese government fails to meet their demands within 48 hours, including the release of political prisoners and direct talks with President Kabila.

Notably, the rebel advance has already caused a humanitarian emergency in North Kivu, with tens of thousands of people uprooted amid armed clashes and reports of targeted summary executions as well as the widespread recruitment and use of children, unconfirmed cases of sexual violence, and other serious human rights abuses.

Congolese forces, who are now in control of Goma, are expected to open the city's airport by Thursday to allow humanitarian workers to provide the much needed aid to city residents.

The M23 comprises mainly soldiers who mutinied from the DRC national army in April as well as members of a former Congolese Tutsi rebel group which signed a peace accord with the DRC government in 2009. The rebels now insist that the DRC government failed to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal which promised them army posts.

Separately, a leaked copy of a U.N. report obtained by the media on Monday suggested that Rwanda and Uganda, both of which played active roles in DRC's previous wars, had supported the M23 rebels in capturing Goma by providing them with troops, uniforms and arms.

In their report to the Security Council, U.N. experts claimed that they had evidence to prove that both Rwanda and Uganda had supported the M23 rebels in their fight against Congolese government troops.

The U.N. experts alleged in the report that some 1,000 Rwandan troops had crossed over into the DRC ahead of the offensive that resulted in the capture of Goma, and added that Rwandan Generals helped M23 commander Sultani Makenga coordinate the offensive.

The U.N. report also contained photos of several people it identified as Rwandan troops on Congolese territory. Notably, M23 rebels as well as members of the Rwandan government are mostly ethnic Tutsis.

Both Rwanda and Uganda have been consistently denying allegations that they provided support to the M23 rebels. Notably, another U.N. report released in July alleged that Rwanda was supporting the M23 rebels in violation of a U.N. arms embargo as well as sanctions on armed rebel groups in the DRC.

That U.N. report had prompted Britain and the Netherlands to suspend their aid to Rwanda until they are convinced that Kigali is honoring the conditions set for the financial assistance. Subsequently, the United States also slashed $200,000 in military aid to Rwanda.

Besides fighting the mutineers, the Congolese security forces are also engaged in separate offensives against Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in the east and the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army in the north.

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