MUGUNGA CAMP, DR Congo: Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma assumed gradual control of the mining hub yesterday after a rebel pullout, but tensions were running high with gunmen attacking a nearby camp for displaced people.
UN refugee agency officials reported cases of looting and rape in the attack late Saturday on the giant Mugunga camp, which lies about 10 kilometers (six miles) west of Goma and is home to up to 35,000 displaced people.
The attack came hours after the withdrawal of M23 rebel fighters in line with a regionally brokered deal to end their occupation of Goma, which had stoked fears about stability in the war-blighted area that borders Rwanda and Uganda.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said of the withdrawal, adding that President Joseph Kabila would soon start “listening to the grievances” of the mainly Tutsi rebels as part of peace negotiations.
Security in the volatile region remains fluid following the M23’s 12-day occupation of Goma, despite over 160 police reinforcements arriving by boat at the lake port to beef up some 300 colleagues who arrived Saturday.
Alongside United Nations peacekeepers, a few police patrols were seen on the streets of Goma, a city of around one million people that is the hub of the resource-rich area. Some 600 government soldiers are also reported to be on their way to Goma.
The UN-backed Radio Okapi has also been jammed since late Saturday, officials said, after it aired an interview with M23 political leader Jean-Marie Runiga.
While the rebels’ lightning seizure of Goma last week — eight months after they launched their uprising — sparked fear of a wider war and major humanitarian crisis, their pullout raised hopes it signaled a move back from further conflict.
The region has already been the cradle of back-to-back wars that embroiled other nations from 1996 to 2003 fought largely over its vast wealth of copper, diamonds, gold and key mobile phone component coltan.
Residents were wary of the arrival of government soldiers, who, like the rebels, have been accused of abuses including killings of civilians, rape and looting during the latest unrest.
“They used to intimidate you and ask you for money,” said Angeline, a Goma resident who only gave her first name.
“Of course we’re a little worried... what we want is peace,” she added, sitting at her small market stall, empty of goods.
Singing songs and waving guns, M23 fighters crammed on to a convoy of looted trucks left Goma on Saturday, taking heavy weaponry and ammunition seized when Congo’s army fled in disarray from their advance.
But the rebels remain just outside Goma, having pledged to withdraw only 20 km under a regionally brokered deal, with complex negotiations now to focus on their demands, which include political reform.