Rebels seize Congolese city, as U.N. forces watch helplessly

 

By Sudarsan Raghavan, Published: November 20

NAIROBI — Rebel forces in Congo on Tuesday seized control of Goma, a strategic provincial capital in the nation’s resource-rich east, despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers in the area. The takeover sent tens of thousands fleeing and triggered fears of a regional conflict, according to officials and witnesses.

“The atmosphere in the city is tense, people are worried,” Grace Tang, head of mission in Goma for the aid group Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement before the takeover. “The fighting that for months has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes elsewhere in the region has now reached Goma’s doorstep.”

By Tuesday afternoon, the M23 rebels, formed earlier this year, had taken control of many of Goma’s streets and the international airport, according to news reports.

In New York, France and the United States agreed on a draft U.N. resolution — which was expected to be voted on Tuesday night — that condemns the rebels’ capture of Goma and demands their immediate withdrawal from the city.

This nook of Africa has been in a state of perpetual instability for many years. Congo has been besieged by conflict ever since the fall of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. Various rebel groups and the armies of several nations have fought over the eastern part of the country and its resources, which include vast deposits of tin, gold and tantalite, a mineral used in cellphones and laptops. The fighting has left millions dead, mostly from disease and starvation.

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