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JOHANNESBURG — The rebel takeover of the key Congolese city of Goma has sparked fears for the future of one of Africa’s biggest and most war-torn countries.
In the short term, the victory by the M23 rebels could trigger a wave of reprisal attacks on civilians in the city of a million people. Thousands of displaced people, in the chaos of the rebel advance, are fleeing out of Goma or into the city from rural camps.
In the longer term, the rebel victory could destabilize and weaken the fragile government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, opening the door for a foreign carve-up of eastern Congo, a mineral-rich region that has attracted rebels and invaders for many years.
The Rwandan-backed rebels, commanded by indicted war-crimes fugitive Bosco Ntaganda (known as “the Terminator”), walked into Goma almost unopposed on Tuesday after the city was abandoned by Congo’s notoriously underpaid and unreliable army.
United Nations peacekeepers, who had deployed helicopters to strafe the rebels with cannons and rockets on Sunday in a futile attempt to slow their advance, appeared to give up and just stood by watching as the rebels took the city. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was “absurd” that the 17,000-member UN force was unable to stop a few hundred rebels.
It’s the first time since 2003 that rebels have controlled the city. Congolese soldiers were reported to be retreating southward after looting homes in Goma as they left.
The rebels have threatened to advance further in eastern Congo, targeting the major city of Bukavu to the south, which could lead to rebel control of most of eastern Congo.
The capture of Goma has the potential to ignite a broader war between Congo and neighbouring Rwanda, which is believed to be a key source of support for the rebels.
The International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, warned that the rebel victory “could send shock waves” through eastern Congo and could “relaunch open warfare between the DRC and Rwanda.”
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