Rwanda's invading army

The M23 rebels are on the march, capturing  a key Congolese city after overrunning UN troops. But who is really backing them?

Rebels widely believed to have links to Rwanda have overrun UN peacekeepers to seize control of the strategically important eastern Congo city of Goma, leading experts to warn that the conflict could spill over into a wider regional war.

After three days of intense fighting, the Congolese army fled the city and UN forces stood aside to let rebels from the M23 group march into Goma.

The rebels, who a UN panel of experts say have been supported by Rwanda and to a lesser extent Uganda, said they will now push further into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The M23 advance has already emptied one of the largest refugee camps on the outskirts of the ramshackle city sending some 60,000 people fleeing south. Aid workers and non-essential UN staff have also been evacuated.

Yesterday morning, the sound of heavy weapons and machine guns reverberated through Goma’s pot-holed streets and slums. Some residents ran for the border crossing into Rwanda and Goma’s twin city of Gisenyi. By the afternoon several hundred fighters from M23 – a force estimated to be 1,500-strong – marched through the main avenue with a handful of people waving or cheering their arrival. Most residents hid indoors.

The troops walked past the armoured personnel carriers of the 1,400 UN soldiers who failed to defend the city despite days of insisting they would do so. The notoriously incompetent Congolese army had already fled, with some units stopping to loot before departing.

“There is no army left in the town, not a soul,” an unnamed official with the UN force, known as Monusco, told Reuters.  “Once they were in the town what could we do? It could have been very serious for the population.”

DR Congo has been shattered by two previous conflicts known as the “Africa’s World War” that are estimated to have killed more than four million people. The International Crisis Group (ICG) warned last night that urgent steps must be taken to avoid the “real possibility” of a wider war: “Regional and international actors must now prevent this turning into a new regional war,” the ICG said in a statement.

“The past week has shown history repeating itself in eastern DRC, with the same tragic consequences for civilians in the region.”

In the space of seven months the M23 rebellion – started by soldiers mutinying over what they claim is the government’s reneging on a peace deal signed on 23 March, 2009 – has defeated the numerically superior army and humiliated Monusco with its 6,700-strong force deployed in the province of North Kivu. The rebels have been accused of mass rape, recruiting child soldiers and massacring civilians.

The Tutsi-led M23 force is the reincarnation of the CNDP rebels who routed Congolese government troops and the UN in 2008 but stopped at the gates of Goma. Four years ago Rwanda intervened to roll back the rebellion on condition that its army was allowed to cross the border and pursue ethnic Hutu militia, the FDLR.

The CNDP fighters and many of their commanders were then given senior posts in the Congolese army, while its leader, the warlord Laurent Nkunda went into exile in Rwanda.

Talks to resolve the present crisis are underway in the capital of neighbouring Uganda, Kampala. However, the Congolese Information Minister, Lambert Mende, ruled out negotiations with the rebels, saying they were Rwandan proxies and they would only speak with the government in Kigali.

Prospects for a peace deal are complicated by a UN experts’ report due to be published this week which details financial, military and logistical support from Rwanda and Uganda for the M23. Despite overwhelming evidence in the report, seen by The Independent, Rwanda and Uganda both deny involvement.

These denials have lost credibility as independent reporters, UN troops and aid workers have witnessed Rwandan soldiers fighting alongside the rebels in recent weeks. Any response from the UN Security Council will also be hobbled by the fact that Rwanda was elected to serve on the council last month.

Jason Stearns, an expert on the Great Lakes region said the rebels’ aims remain enigmatic: “The M23 strategy could well be more to nettle the government, underscore its ineptitude, and hope that it will collapse from within.”


Who's who: The fighting factions

M23 Congolese rebels allied to Rwanda and named after 23 March 2009 peace deal that disbanded their predecessors, the CNDP.

FDLR Remnants of Hutu milita from Rwanda, the force has relied on the control of mines.

FARDC The Congolese army has earned a reputation for rape, looting and extortion as well as cowardice.

RDF  The Rwandan army has allegedly participated in M23 rebel attacks and regularly invaded DR Congo since the genocide in 1994.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering