DRC president meets regional leaders after rebels seize provincial capital
Rebels from the M23 entered Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, with apparently little resistance after earlier fighting at the city's airport on 20 November. The seizure of the city follows days of fresh fighting between the rebels and government troops since a de facto ceasefire broke down on 15 November. The seemingly well-armed rebels captured Kibumba, around 25 km north of Goma, on 17 November and had come within just a few kilometres of the provincial capital by the following day. By then the United Nations had warned of a "real threat" that Goma could fall to the M23 as government forces, supported by helicopter gunships from the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (known as MONUSCO), were unable to prevent their advance. Fresh clashes erupted on 19 November after the government rejected a call by the M23 for "direct political negotiations" within 24 hours.
Residents of Goma woke up on 20 November to further fighting at the city's airport (which reportedly still remains under UN control) before the rebels apparently walked into the capital's centre after DRC troops retreated and in the face of no resistance from UN peacekeepers. Colonel Vianney Kazarama, an M23 spokesman, claimed in a telephone call to Reuters that the town of Goma had fallen "at 11:33 local time" and the rebels subsequently took control of the border post at Goma, which leads into the Rwandan town of Gisenyi.
There were also reports that M23 military leader Sultani Makenga - who was the subject of UN and US sanctions on 13 November - had entered Goma. In a radio broadcast to the town, Kazarama appealed for calm and ordered the remaining police and troops from the DRC army (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo: FARDC) to hand in their weapons, AFP news agency reported. Some in Goma have apparently welcomed the rebels, but others feel let down both by the FARDC and the UN peacekeeping mission. Protests also broke out in other parts of the country, including in Kisangani and Kinshasa, over the M23's takeover of the town.
UN faces criticism
The UN, which has 1,500 troops in Goma, defended its tactics on 20 November, with UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey telling a press briefing that the peacekeepers "cannot substitute for the efforts of national security forces, including the FARDC". He said that MONUSCO's "use of force is principally to protect civilians, not to engage in armed confrontation for broader military purposes". He added: "There has to be a value judgement made do you open fire and put civilians at risk, or do you hold your fire, continue your patrols, observe what is happening, and remind the M23 that they are subject to international humanitarian and human rights law?"
According to DRC observer Jason Stearns, it would be "impossible for MONUSCO to defend Goma single-handedly", the BBC reported. Stearns added: "If the army crumbles, it is difficult to do anything but assert a presence in the streets, to go and protect civilians when there are reports of abuse, but it is impossible to hold the town."
Nevertheless, questions have been raised about the UN's role in the country, with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius calling for a review of MONUSCO's mandate, AFP reported. Fabius told reporters in Paris, "Deploying 17,000 men and giving them a mandate that does not allow them to intervene is absurd." Of the 17,000-strong mission, around 6,700 troops are deployed in North Kivu province, with 1,500 peacekeepers in Goma divided into "quick reaction" teams.591 of 1347 words
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