By Stephanie Aglietti (AFP) – Nov 28, 2012
GOMA, DR Congo — Congolese rebels have made no major moves to withdraw from the key eastern city of Goma, the United Nations said Wednesday, issuing a new call for foreign countries to stop meddling in the volatile region.
The M23 rebels -- army mutineers whose rampant advance through eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has raised fears of wider conflict and humanitarian catastrophe -- have pledged to leave Goma by the end of the week, presenting the government with a list of demands in return.
But while the rebels said they had begun withdrawing, deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the local UN mission in DR Congo "reports that there has not yet been any major movement by M23 out of Goma".
There were however "signs that the M23 are preparing to withdraw" in line with a deal brokered by African army chiefs, he said.
Residents had earlier said dozens of trucks carrying food and ammunition had left the North Kivu province capital.
Goma is the main city in the Kivu region abutting Rwanda and Uganda, and has been the flashpoint for two past wars fought largely over control of its vast mineral wealth, including copper, diamonds, gold and key cell phone component coltan.
Rwanda and Uganda played active roles in the back-to-back conflicts from 1996 to 2003, and the UN has accused them of backing the M23 -- a charge both countries deny.
The UN on Wednesday repeated its call for an end to foreign interference, backing it up with the threat of sanctions as demanded by the DR Congo government.
The UN Security Council passed a French-drafted resolution saying it would consider sanctions against more M23 leaders and "those providing external support", though it did not name any country.
The dramatic escalation in the M23 uprising since it was launched in April has heightened international fears of a fresh conflict and a major humanitarian crisis, with reports of atrocities and tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting.
Rights groups and UN officials have accused the rebels of killing, raping and abducting civilians.
-- 'Plundered from top to bottom' --
The Red Cross said Wednesday its workers had picked up and buried 62 bodies, including civilians, from the streets of Goma in the days after its capture.
The Red Cross also reported hospitals packed to capacity and struggling to treat patients in critical condition.
"Some of them urgently need surgery if they are to survive their injuries," said the organisation's Frederic Boyer of a military hospital in Goma.
The Red Cross reported civilians and combatants were criss-crossing the region in search of refuge and medical treatment, running short of food and unable to reach their fields.
A Red Cross team found a displaced persons' camp between the rebel-held towns of Goma and Sake "practically deserted", it said, while there were "reports of an influx of wounded" to the town of Minova in South Kivu province.
DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende charged that the rebels had plundered buildings in Goma "from top to bottom" across the city and taken the loot -- including trucks, mineral stocks and even a morgue refrigeration system -- across the border to Rwanda.
Life in Goma appeared to be returning to normal Wednesday.
Shops were open, taxis were running and while there were a few rebels posted at junctions, their presence had been scaled down considerably.
M23 military commander Sultani Makenga said the rebels were ready to pull back 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Goma as pledged.
"Tomorrow morning, (the M23) will begin to move towards Sake, then Goma, to continue towards our original positions," said Makenga, who was personally hit with UN and US sanctions this month over allegations of atrocities including killings, rapes and abductions.
A Western military source has estimated the number of rebels in the North Kivu region at 1,500.
A weekend summit of regional leaders called on the M23 to leave Goma, but also urged President Joseph Kabila's government to address their grievances.
M23 political leader Jean-Marie Runiga said the group had a list of demands, including direct talks with Kabila and the dissolution of the country's electoral commission, which oversaw a flawed vote last year in which Kabila was re-elected.
The government has ruled out any peace talks until the M23 quit Goma.
The M23 was founded by former fighters in an ethnic-Tutsi rebel group whose members were integrated into the regular army under a 1999 peace deal they claim was never fully implemented.
They seized Goma last week in a rapid advance that the army proved unable to stop despite backing from UN peacekeepers' attack helicopters.
The complex web of rebel groups and militias battling for eastern DR Congo's mineral wealth has made the region chronically unstable -- a situation exacerbated by the aftermath of the 1999 genocide in Rwanda, when ethnic Hutus implicated in the killing of some 800,000 mostly Tutsi victims fled across the Congolese border after Tutsi leader Paul Kagame came to power.
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