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
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
i100
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?