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article imageDRC government rejects M23 rebels' ultimatum

By Raluca Besliu     Nov 19, 2012 in World
The Democratic Republic of Congo's government has rejected the M23 rebels’ ultimatum to initiate direct negotiations and declared it would defend Goma, the de facto aid capital of the country’s war-torn east.
Goma is currently home to at least 1 million people and a major United Nations peacekeeping base.
The government dismissed as blackmail the ultimatum, which also demanded the complete demilitarization of Goma and of its international airport and warned that the rebels would otherwise fight until taking down the Kinshasa government.
In fact, the official Congolese government’s spokesman claimed that the M23 rebels are only fictitious forces promoted by Rwanda to hide its criminal activities in eastern Congo and that the Congolese government, therefore, prefers to negotiate with Rwanda, the real aggressor.
Fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army were renewed four days ago and ended on Sunday with the rebels stopping only a few kilometres from Goma. On Sunday night, UN attack helicopters fired on the rebels advancing toward the city, as governmental troops as well as top local officials seemed to join the fleeing civilians.
During the weekend, the UN Security Council condemned the rebel attacks and renewed its request to end external support for the group, which is significantly better equipped than the dysfunctional Congolese army. The EU has also asked the rebels to cease their advance toward Goma and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton voiced great concern over the conflict’s development.
The UN currently believes that the M23 rebels are receiving their support from Rwanda and Uganda. Although both countries have strongly denied these allegations, in October 2012, a UN panel of experts claimed to have sufficient evidence demonstrating that the two countries supplied the rebels with weapons in what is considered an on-going battle for controlling mineral-rich North Kivu.
Last week, the UN and the US imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Sultani Makenga, one of the M23 leader, accused of recruiting and using child soldiers. Moreover, on Tuesday, the Congolese government requested Uganda close the Bunagana border crossing, situated close to Goma, after claiming that the M23 was illegally gathering funds from people travelling between the two countries.
The UN peacekeeping forces currently comprise 270 international staff members in Goma, while an additional 355 international UN staff members live in the city. Around 50,000 people are believed to have fled as a result of the rebels’ advance, while the majority of the Western aid agencies’ staff members have been order to cross the border into Rwanda. It is expected that UN peacekeepers will continue preventing the rebels from gaining access to the city, though some officials doubt that, fearful of endangering civilians’ lives, they would not adequately engage the M23 forces.
The M23 rebel group consists mainly of former fighters in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a Tutsi rebel movement. It was formed after an unsuccessful attempt to integrate the fighters in Congo’s army in 2009.
More about The Democratic Republic of Congo, Drc, Rwanda, Uganda, M23
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