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M23 rebels 'looting' as pullout from Goma begins

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-11-29

The government of Democratic Republic of Congo has accused M23 rebels of looting as they withdrew from the strategic regional capital of Goma on Wednesday. The withdrawal follows diplomatic pressure from regional leaders.

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo accused rebels Wednesday of widespread looting in Goma as the fighters began pulling out of the strategic eastern city following diplomatic mediation to prevent the conflict spreading across the volatile region.

The Red Cross also reported that it had buried 62 people whose bodies were found in the streets of Goma in the days following its capture by the M23 group, which launched an uprising against the DR Congo government in April.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende charged that the rebels had plundered buildings "from top to bottom" across the city, including an attempt to rob the central bank, and taken the loot across the border to Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of backing the M23.

He said those behind "such barbaric acts answer for their actions before the courts, both national and international".

'Very mixed signals'

Residents said dozens of trucks carrying food and ammunition had left Goma, the main city in the Kivu region on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda which has been the flashpoint for past wars in central Africa's largest country.

At stake is control of Kivu's vast mineral wealth, which include cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold and coltan, a key component in mobile phones.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the process of pulling out had apparently already begun, a week after the rebels easily overran Goma as they swept across the east, heightening fears of a major conflict and a humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of people displaced.

"It seems that the advances have stopped," he said. "If anything there were signs tonight that they were either getting out of Goma or getting ready to do that."

But he said the withdrawal could only be confirmed by the UN mission on Wednesday.

In the streets of Goma, life appeared to be returning to normal, AFP correspondents said. Shops were open, taxis were running and while there were a few rebels posted at junctions, their presence has been scaled down considerably.

A Western military source has estimated the number of rebels at 1,500 in the North Kivu region of which Goma is the capital.

A local official said residents had reported that the trucks were heading towards Rutshuru and Rumangabo, both rebel-held towns north of Goma. But the M23 were still occupying the town of Sake, which lies on the road towards the South Kivu capital of Bukavu.

M23 military commander Sultani Makenga, who was hit this month by UN and US sanctions over alleged atrocities committed by the rebels, said on Tuesday the fighters had started moving out provisions, medical supplies and ammunition.

The rebel moves come after a weekend summit of regional African leaders called on the M23 to leave Goma, but also urged the DR Congo government of President Joseph Kabila to address their grievances.

The rebellion erupted in April when the M23, largely made up of ethnic Tutsis, broke away from the DR Congo army, complaining that a 2009 peace deal to end a previous conflict had not been fully implemented.

On Tuesday, Makenga said his men would quit Goma "in three days at the latest" and would pull back 20 kilometres (12 miles) under a deal struck in Kampala with east African leaders.

But M23 political leader Jean-Marie Runiga told journalists they had a list of demands, including direct talks with Kabila, who was re-elected last year in a flawed presidential vote, and the dissolution of the electoral commission.

They have also demanded the release of opposition standard-bearer Etienne Tshisekedi, a former prime minister under unofficial house arrest since declaring himself the victor of last year's election.

Bodies found on Goma streets

On Wednesday, Congo's Red Cross said its workers had picked up and buried 62 bodies from the streets of Goma in the days following its capture.

"They are those of civilians and soldiers, only adults," its president Dominique Lutula told AFP.

The UN has issued a damning report accusing both Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Uganda, of backing the rebels.

Both countries vehemently deny the allegations.

But the scope of the advance suggested that the M23 had outside help. In just a week, they expanded their area of control from one small corner of North Kivu to cover almost the entire province, an area twice the size of Belgium.

Rights group and UN officials have accused the rebels of atrocities, including the killings, rapes and abductions of civilians, which forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

The powder-keg region was the cradle of two wars that shook DR Congo between 1996 and 1997, and then again from 1998 to 2003, with Rwanda and Uganda playing active roles.


Date created : 2012-11-28


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