GOMA — Rebel forces in eastern Congo said today they planned to take control of the whole of the vast central African country after they captured the eastern town of Goma while United Nations peacekeepers looked on.
A spokesman for the M23 rebels, a group widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, said they planned to “liberate” the country, by moving to the town of Bukavu and then marching on the capital, Kinshasa, nearly 1,000 miles away.
“The journey to liberate Congo has started now … We’re going to move on to Bukavu and then to Kinshasa. Are you ready to join us?” Vianney Kazarama, spokesman for the M23 rebels, told a crowd of more than 1,000 in a stadium in Goma.
The rebels accuse the government of failing to grant them positions in the army, and salaries, in line with a peace deal that ended a previous rebellion in 2009. Alongside that, the rebellion reflects local ethnic conflicts intertwined with Rwanda’s desire to maintain influence over a region on its borders rich in minerals.
The M23 rebellion has aggravated tensions between Congo and Rwanda, which the Congolese government says is orchestrating the insurgency as a means of grabbing the east’s resources, which include diamonds, gold and coltan, used in mobile phones.
The surprise announcement by the rebels came as diplomats at the United Nations and regional mediators in Central Africa have been seeking to prevent an escalation of hostilities in Congo, a resource-rich country the size of Western Europe.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame were due to meet today after holding three-way talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni late yesterday, sources in the Ugandan presidency said.
In New York, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution late yesterday condemning the seizure of Goma.
The French government expressed frustration with UN peacekeepers, who gave up the battle for the town of one million after Congo’s army retreated, saying it was “absurd” that the UN force did not protect the city. (Reuters)