AFRICANGLOBE – If the city of Goma falls to the marauding M23 rebels, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda may go to war, Kinshasa has warned.
M23 rebels are believed to be on the verge of capturing one of the largest cities in eastern DRC in a development that could draw the two countries into a war.
Lambert Mende, a DR Congo government spokesman told reporters that negotiations were out of the question, saying his country will not give in to the “blackmail” of a Rwandan-backed group.
“If Goma falls, it’s going to create a whole other set of problems.
“We refuse systematically to speak to them (M23) because if we do, it would be a way to wash away Rwanda’s responsibility,” Mende was quoted as saying.
On Monday, gunfire and explosions were heard, and shells landed near the international airport and near a United Nations position.
Both Rwanda and the DR Congo have accused each other of firing mortars across the narrow border.
According to the United Nations peacekeeping group in the DRC, the M23 rebels are very well-equipped with 120 mm mortars, and night-vision goggles which are allegedly being provided by Rwanda.
Kigali has also been accused of sending several battalions of fighters.
DRC analyst Jason Stearns, a former member of the United Nations Group of Experts, said on his blog that the group is now believed to be composed of 2,500 to 3,000 men.
The World Abandoned the DR Congo
The UN has since evacuated most of its employees, and several flights into Goma have been rerouted.
According to eyewitness accounts, civilians including young children could be seen running to safety, seeking shelter in huts and behind ledges along the road where the two sides were battling.
The possibility of war between both nations was verbalized to the media by M23 rebel spokesman Col. Vianney Kazarama.
“The army DR Congo army provoked us. They have fired on our men … We are going to take Goma tonight,” he said.
Kazarma blamed DR Congo for renewed hostilities.
“The situation in Goma is extremely tense. There is a real threat that the city could fall into the M23’s hands and/or be seriously destabilized as a result of the fighting,” U.N. spokesman Kieran Dwyer said in a statement on Sunday.
In 2008, the rebel group known as the National Congress for the Defense of the People, financially and militarily backed by Rwanda, advanced to the edge of Goma with similar motives as the M23 have today.
Observers say it is in Rwanda’s interest to exert influence over areas of eastern DR Congo bordering Rwanda where Hutus fled after perpetrating the 1994 genocide inside Rwanda against the country’s Tutsi minority.
According to experts from the International Crisis Group, exercising influence would enable Rwanda to maintain a buffer zone and to exploit the trade and trafficking of minerals in eastern DR Congo.
The DR Congo and Rwanda have been involved in two wars, the most recent of which ended in 2003 after lasting nearly six years.