News24

DRC's Goma residents living in fear

2012-11-30 08:00

Goma - Residents of DR Congo's war-torn city of Goma survived its capture by rebel forces last week, but many are fearful of what will happen as the fighters prepare to leave and the army returns.

Tensions are high, with no one sure of how a handover of power could play out, with fears of reprisals by the DRCarmy if the rebel M23 fighters follow through on their promise to pull out of the key eastern city on Friday.

"While M23 have not got the capacity to run the town...we have no confidence in the army," said Frank, a nervous resident of the town.

They will target those believed to be "spies and rebels," especially those speaking the Kinyarwanda language, Frank added, because of Rwanda's alleged backing of the rebels, charges Kigali denies.

Many fear that ending rebel control will not return order that and the notoriously ramshackle Congolese army, known as FARDC, are little better.

On a rutted stone track in an impoverished district of Goma, with the hills of Rwanda in the background, people said they were scared of FARDC's return.

"They are an undisciplined army, they have done nothing to protect us," said Dunia, a 45-year old electrician.

Rights groups and UN officials have accused the rebels of killing, raping and abducting civilians, but FARDC troops are also alleged to have looted shops and homes as they fled the M23 advance last week.

"They should leave"

"They could attack us all -- they are savages," Frank added.

Residents report that soldiers on both sides have attacked civilians.

"Six M23 soldiers knocked on my door, I did not want to open it but they forced their way in," said Rosa, 54. She said they tried to rape her and her daughter. "Finally, they left with a goat," she added nervously.

The M23 say they will hand over control of the city to the United Nations peacekeepers in Goma. But they do not inspire much confidence in residents nervously waiting for an expected shift in power.

Peacekeepers in the UN mission in DRC (Monusco) were criticised for failing to stop the rebels as they swept into the city last week. In the days running up Goma's capture, they had backed DRC's army with attack helicopters to target the rebels.

Sitting opposite a UN peacekeeper in a white-painted tank guarding Goma's airport behind razor wire, mother-of-six Julienne waved her hand dismissively when asked if she has confidence in the UN.

"They only protect their own workers, they don't protect the population," she said. "We don't need them, they should leave."

Economy

But as thin plumes of smoke rose from cooking fires outside ramshackle shelters - homes of some of the many thousands displaced by waves of violence in this volatile region - others hoped for a rebel retreat.

Businessman Jules, 38, who has closed his hardware store since the rebels entered the city last week, said the economy was struggling.

"Many shops are shut because we fear they will loot our goods," he said.

"If they leave then we can all go back to doing our business," added truck driver Martin, 28. Work had dried up with the rebels around, he said.

"We are in an economic crisis," he added. "We want them to leave, not just 20km away, but to go far away."

Despite the gloom on the pot-holed streets of Goma however, the city seemed fairly calm on Thursday, with some shops and stalls open, although after a rumour of looting many swiftly shut.

For their part, the M23 deployed their fighters as traffic policemen as a way of showing the extent of their control.

"For now we are directing traffic and attending to any accidents," said M23 gunman Amiable Muhirwahe, as a colleague in a yellow vest waved motorbike taxis by.