x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

DRC rebels vow to hold position in captured city

M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo defied a deadline imposed by neighboring nations yesterday, saying they would stay in the eastern city of Goma and would fight to hold it.

GOMA // M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo defied a deadline imposed by neighboring nations yesterday, saying they would stay in the eastern city of Goma and would fight to hold it.

The DRC's military spokesman, Colonel Olivier Hamuli, called it "a declaration of war" and said the army was ready to resume combat, although he declined to say when.

Highlighting the volatility of the situation, a different rebel group based in the DRC, known as the FDLR, crossed into Rwanda and attacked Rwandan army positions.

Rwanda's military spokesman, Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, confirmed that the FDLR had attacked Rwandan positions yesterday.

"The attack on Cyanzarwe, Bugeshi Sector on Rubavu district was carried out by two companies of FDLR fighters of about 150 men," he said. "We managed to repulse them and send them back to DRC while others dispersed into different directions," he said.

It raised the possibility that DRC was directly retaliating against Rwanda, its much-smaller but more affluent neighbor, which has twice gone to war with the DRC and which is now believed to be directing the M23 rebellion.

Speaking in Goma yesterday, the M23 president, Jean-Marie Runiga, said the rebels would not leave the city of 1 million, which they seized a week ago. The deadline imposed by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region for the rebels to depart was midnight Monday.

Mr Runiga said that the M23 now had 1,000 tonnes of arms and ammunition, including heavy artillery, abandoned by the fleeing DRC army. Six flatbed trucks carrying crates of ammunition were seen being driven by M23 soldiers north of Goma yesterday.

At the same time, Mr Runiga said that the rebels would like to negotiate with the DRC government. In April, when the rebellion began, the group initially said they wanted to revisit the March 23, 2009 peace accord that paved the way for the fighters to join the military. The group initially claimed that the DRC had not held up its end of the bargain, failing to provide the fighters with adequate pay and proper equipment.

The DRC government has already said that they were willing to negotiate with M23 on the basis of the 2009 peace accord, but yesterday, Mr Runiga said that they no longer want to talk about only that.

"Lots happened between 2009 and 2012. It is better to tackle the root causes of the issue once and for all," he said.