DRC rebels threaten to retake Goma

2013-08-03 19:25

Bunagana - The Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebel group warned on Saturday that it would not rule out recapturing the main eastern city of Goma if Kinshasa reneged on its pledge to start direct talks.

The M23 seized Goma in November last year and only pulled out under intense international pressure and after Kinshasa promised to discuss the group's grievances.

The Congolese government vowed to start a dialogue during a 24 November summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, an 11-member regional bloc.

"If the government does not comply... this allows us to alter our deployment and move positions back to Goma," M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa told AFP in Bunagana, a town on the border with Uganda.

The summit urged the M23 to pull back to positions around 20km out. The rebels eventually complied and withdrew from the city after occupying it for almost two weeks.

The M23, formed in 2012 by renegade former rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese regular army, now argues that Kinshasa is refusing to launch direct talks and enforce joint security measures.

"We stuck to the positions we were assigned by the ICGLR. The Goma withdrawal happened," Bisimwa said in Bunagana, an M23 stronghold.

"Yet the deployment of an M23 battalion at Goma airport never happened, nor did the city's demilitarisation," said Bisimwa.

"We've held our part of the deal, we want the government to hold theirs," he said.

The M23, whose ranks consist mainly of Congolese Tutsis, controls positions close to the borders with Rwanda and Uganda, two countries accused by Kinshasa of backing the group.

Several reports by a UN panel of experts on DR Congo even named the Rwandan defence minister as the man who topped the M23 chain of command.

Clashes between the M23 and the Congolese army resumed on 14 July after a two-month lull in fighting, with rebels moving closer to Goma.

UN forces, including a 3 000-strong intervention brigade with a robust mandate, have since moved in to create a security zone around Goma.

M23 and government delegations have travelled to Kampala on several occasions but never entered into direct negotiations.

Observers say the Congolese government camp may prefer to wait for an army restructuring to be more advanced and for the UN elite brigade to be fully deployed before sitting down with the rebels.

The M23 entered Goma with relative ease last year but the rapport de force has changed and an estimated 2,000 rebels would now face a better prepared regular army as well as a UN force with teeth.