Congo rebels claim control of Goma and airport
Congo rebels claim control of Goma and airport
M23 rebel troops marched silently in single file into Goma meeting with little resistance.
The UN has some 1,500 “quick reaction” peacekeepers in Goma, part of some 6,700 troops in North Kivu province, backing government forces against the rebels. They were on Tuesday at their base, according to AFP.
Gunfire from apparent clashes with regular forces was heard from the west of the city and from another area leading to a key road, a reporter on the scene said.
Witnesses also reported that rebel chief Sultani Makenga had arrived in the city.
Rebel spokesman Col. Vianney Kazarama said the group was in control of Goma and the airport and was “pursuing the enemy” who he said were fleeing.
Kabila, in an address to the nation, spoke of a “war” situation and urged the population to fight the rebels. Kinshasa has repeatedly accused neighbor Rwanda of backing the group, made up of soldiers who mutinied in April.
“DR Congo is today confronted with a difficult situation,” Kabila said on national television. “When a war is imposed, one has an obligation to resist. I ask that the entire population defend our sovereignty.” The rebels are mainly Tutsis, the minority ethnic group of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the target of the 1994 genocide in that country that claimed at least 800,000 lives.
Kabila was yesterday in Kampala for talks on the crisis. As he left for the Ugandan capital, he said he would be “presenting proof against the countries mentioned.” It was not clear if Kagame would take part. Kinshasa rejected the rebels’ ultimatum for direct talks within 24 hours on Monday saying it preferred to “negotiate with Rwanda, the real aggressor.” The rebels on Tuesday also took control of the border posts between Goma and Gisenyi, the town on the Rwandan side of the border, another journalist said.
Their advance on Goma marked an escalation in the fighting, which erupted last Thursday after a four-month lull and which has raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing the volatile region.
Earlier on Tuesday, loud explosions shook the area and there were reports of looting in Goma, the regional capital of 300,000 close to the border with Rwanda that is also sheltering tens of thousands of refugees who have fled the clashes.
The international community has raised alarm about the fighting and the UN has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, charges both countries deny.
Washington described the fighting as “an extremely dangerous and worrying situation.” Last week’s fighting came days after US and the UN slapped sanctions on Makenga.
Makenga is accused of atrocities including masterminding killings, rapes, abductions and recruiting child soldiers.
The rebels have said they plan to fight the DR Congo government “until it falls.” As the drama unfolded in Goma, hundreds of students in the northeastern town of Kisangi ransacked the offices of the country’s ruling party and shouted anti-Kabila slogans while in Kinshasa they put up banners reading “no to war.” Aid agencies have evacuated staff from Goma and the UN had planned to remove non-essential personnel on Tuesday.
The fighting is the most serious since July, when UN helicopters last went into action against the M23.
The rebels mutinied in April after the failure of a 2009 peace deal that integrated them into the regular army.
The mineral-rich east has been the launch pad of rebellions dating back to 1996, with Rwanda and Uganda both playing active or behind-the-scenes roles in much of the warfare.
Two wars that shook the whole of DR Congo between 1996 and 1997 and then again from 1998 to 2002 both began in the Kivu region.
Since 1998 more than three million people are estimated to have died from combat, disease and hunger and 1.6 million have been left homeless.
The former Belgian colony, known as Zaire under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko who was toppled in 1997, remains one of the world’s least developed countries despite a wealth of cobalt, copper, diamonds and gold.
A report by anti-poverty group Oxfam yesterday highlighted the toll of the fighting on civilians in what it described as a campaign of looting and extortion.
“Congolese civilians are not only suffering violent abuse on a massive scale — including rape, kidnap and murder — but are also being subjected to an unprecedented level of financial exploitation, as belligerents loot and extort illegal taxes in their battle for control,” Oxfam said in the report.
Indian police face fury over shooting deaths of 10 protesters
CHENNAI: Outrage swelled Wednesday over the deaths of 10 protesters at a rally over a copper plant in southern India, after police opened fire on demonstrators in what critics termed “mass murder.”
Violence erupted Tuesday in Tamil Nadu state at a long-running demonstration demanding the closure of the smelting plant owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources which residents say is causing environmental damage.
The state’s chief minister has ordered a judicial inquiry into the shootings but the move failed to stem rising anger over the clashes, which also left about 80 wounded.
M.K. Stalin, leader of the main Tamil Nadu opposition party the DMK, said police were guilty of “atrocities.”
“Mass Murder of Innocent People,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Who ordered the police firing on protesters? Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted?“
A video of a police officer on top of a bus and pointing an assault rifle at crowds has fueled fresh anger.
Rahul Gandhi, the national leader of the opposition Congress party, has called the deaths “a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism.”
“These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice,” he said.
Police said Tuesday that 12 people had died but later revised the toll in the port city of Tuticorin.
P. Mahendran, superintendent of Tuticorin district police, said 18 officers were also wounded in the clashes.
“The situation is tense but under control today,” he said. “The post mortem on the bodies is being conducted and they will be handed over to families today.”
The plant, about 600 kilometers (375 miles) south of Tamil Nadu’s state capital Chennai, is currently closed as Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper subsidiary seeks a new license so it can be expanded.
The protesters had set ablaze the local administrator’s office after they were denied permission to hold a rally at the plant.
Police said efforts to disperse the crowd of several thousand with a baton charge and tear gas volleys failed before authorities used live ammunition.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami ordered the judicial inquiry into the shootings but defended the police.
“The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protesters resorted to repeated violence,” he said.
The families of each victim would be offered one million rupees ($14,700) compensation, he added.
The deaths came on the 100th day of demonstrations against the plant, which environmentalists and residents claim is contaminating water sources — a charge the company denies.
The protests intensified after Vedanta, owned by an Indian billionaire but with its head office in London, sought to double the 400,000-ton annual capacity of the plant.
It was shut briefly after an alleged gas leak in March 2013 that left hundreds with breathing difficulties, nausea and throat infections.
The company maintains that it adheres to environmental standards and said it was the victim of “false propaganda” about its operations.
Tamil Nadu is one of India’s most industrialized and prosperous states and similar protests over environmental concerns have turned deadly in the past.
Tuticorin witnessed violent demonstrations in 2012 over a nuclear power plant in neighboring Kudankulam district that left one person dead.