GOMA — Rebels widely believed to be backed by Rwanda claimed control of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo today, walking through the frontier city of one million people past UN peacekeepers who did nothing to stop them.
Fighters from the M23 group entered Goma following days of clashes with UN-backed Congolese soldiers that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee. A senior UN source told Reuters that international peacekeepers had given up defending the city after the Congolese troops evacuated.
The rebellion has aggravated tensions between Congo and its neighbour Rwanda, which Kinshasa’s government says is orchestrating the insurgency as a means of grabbing the chaotic region’s mineral wealth. Rwanda denies the assertion.
A Reuters witness saw the heavily armed rebels walking through the streets of the Goma, perched near Rwanda’s border on the edge of Lake Kivu, past UN armoured vehicles and peacekeepers, who looked on.
“Despite the attack helicopters, despite the heavy weapons, the FARDC (Congo national army) has let the town fall into our hands,” Colonel Vianney Kazarama, a spokesman for M23 told Reuters by telephone.
He said the rebels had left a corridor open for Congolese forces to evacuate.
Goma’s capture will be an embarrassment for President Joseph Kabila, who won re-election late last year in polls that triggered widespread riots in Kinshasa and which international observers said were marred by fraud.
The senior UN source told Reuters that international peacekeepers had been unable to mount a defence after Congolese troops evacuated.
“There is no army left in the town, not a soul … once they were in the town what could we do? It could have been very serious for the population,” he said asking not to be named
Streams of residents headed for the nearby border with Rwanda, saying they had been ordered to evacuate by the army. More than 50,000 people who fled fighting earlier this year have abandoned refugee camps around Goma.
“With the war, we’re suffering so much, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” a woman who gave her name only as Aisha told Reuters, clutching her three children. (Reuters)