Shots ring out again in Goma

  • Desertions weaken the M23 forces
  • Several measures have boosted the troops’ morale in Kinshasa
  • It’s in both forces’ interest to launch the final offensive

Will the Congolese government army or the M23 rebels launch the ultimate offensive? Since Sunday, violent combat has again broken out toward the north of Goma. The capital of North Kivu was rocked all day Monday with the sound of gunshots and the echo of artillery. According to Lambert Mende, the government representative, casualties are heavy. 120 rebels and ten government soldiers were killed. Humanitarian aid sources indicate that there are many wounded.

The M23 forces, who in the past few weeks suffered numerous desertions, reinforced their positions to the north of Goma. At the same time the Congolese army on the same front deployed three of its best battalions – a total of 2,000 men.

It’s in both parties interest to launch the “final offensive”. The M23 rebels have observed that the Kampala negotiations that are supposed to find a political solution to the crisis were at an impasse. One of the reasons is that the government representatives, who want to put an end to impunity for M23 defectors, are refusing from now on to integrate the M23 officers and leaders, while the officers and leaders themselves feel that they have not received the guarantees they were expecting. This would explain the temptation to take the gamble and to throw everything they have left into the battle.

The government army’s morale was buoyed by several new measures. Better battalions were sent to the northern front. It received better pay and improved living conditions as well as greater consistency in the chain of command, especially following General Amisi’s suspension. The commander in chief was suspected of treason, and he was suspended. He was replaced by François Olenga, who put some order in the ranks.

FARDC is not hiding its desire to seal the fate of M23 as well as other rebel movements once and for all, thus reestablishing the state’s authority without having to wait for the African Standby Military Brigade. The latter is taking its time deploying and repeating that “It won’t do the work for the Congolese”.

It seems that the FARDC, whose equipment and munitions stock have been reinforced, wants to retake control of Sake road and the northern Goma suburbs. They also want to keep their enemies from being able to hit hard. Monusco has already expressed its concerns, and the humanitarian organizations observe that the situation is extremely precarious in the entire province. Four humanitarian organizations’ staff members disappeared in Kamango from where the Congolese army flushed out Ugandan rebels. Hutu rebels are accused of pillaging Kiwanja, and there’s ongoing fighting in Massis. Everything is happening as if everyone in the province was armed, or they held a piece of power and were bent on getting in on the action to bolster their position. This before Monusco with reinforcements 3000 strong from the African Force puts an end to the game.

In this explosive context the government parties reiterate their accusations. They point out the presence of Somali Al Shabaab, or Muslim recruits, fighting next to the forces, but this allusion arouses vigorous denials. Masudi Kadogo, the provincial representative of the North Kivu Muslim community, repeats its desire for peace. He lists the numerous actions conducted to end the war such as a trip to Bunagana with other religious leaders to ask the M23 leaders to lay down their arms. Ali Musagara, head of the “youth” department of the M23, also denies, more pointedly than politely, the presence of any member of the Somali Al Shabaab fighting with the rebels as well as any recruitment of young people from the Muslim community.

COLETTE BRAECKMAN

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