Nov 18 - (Zarembka writing) I have been receiving reports from AGLI staff in Rwanda and North Kivu concerning the renewed fighting in North Kivu. A large group of Tutsi soldiers, called M-23, deserted the Congolese Army earlier this year and conquered territory north of Goma along the Uganda and Rwandan borders. Rwanda and Uganda are accused by the United Nations of supporting and arming these rebels. After a lull of over a month, fighting resumed a few days ago.
According to the reports I am receiving from my contacts in Rwanda and from news reports, the rebels have advanced close to Goma, emptying an internally displaces persons’ camp of 60,000 to 80,000 people, mostly women, children, and the elderly who have fled to Goma. The governor of North Kivu has reportedly fled to Bukavu in South Kivu. The Congolese Army has also fled, leaving the way to Goma open to the rebels. The Congolese Army consists of Congolese from other parts of the Congo and don’t know Swahili, are poorly paid if they are paid at all, and have no reason to resist the advance of the rebel forces. The United Nations peace keepers are a well-equipped force in Goma, but I am not sure that their heavy equipment (tanks, helicopter gunships, etc) will be useful in this kind of fighting which depends upon terrorizing the opponent with looting, destruction, and rape.
Here is one message I have received on the situation “The situation in Goma is confusing, but we are still waiting this night for knowing if Goma will be taken by the rebels or not. But they are almost two kilometers [1 ½ miles] from the town. Some people fled from Goma into Gisenyi in Rwanda.”
Remember that some of those who are fleeing will not survive, dying of disease, exposure, stress, hunger, lack of medicines, etc. Where will the women sleep tonight? Note that many more people have already died in North Kivu in this fighting than in Gaza in the last five days.
I doubt that the rebels have the manpower to conquer and control Goma. In 2008 the predecessor group of M-23, led by Laurent Nkunda, threatened Goma, but pulled back when he got close.
Theoneste Bizimana wrote, “Gisenyi is safe but as we say, ‘It's impossible to feel safe when your neighbor's home is burning.’”
November 19 - Last night, the M-23 rebels did not attack Goma. Rather they paused and asked for negotiations with the Congolese government. The Congolese government refused", claiming that M-23 was really a front group for the Rwandan army. As a result M-23 continued their advance today and entered Goma.
One message I received said, "The fighting is going on in Goma. Gisenyi has now a lot of confusion."
Zawadi who was in the hospital in Goma after a still-born baby texted me, "I have just left the hospital and then crossed to Gisenyi, but bombs are falling all over. It's chaotic."
News reports indicate that these "bombs" come from the United Nations peace-keeping forces.
November 20 - This morning, after a day’s truce and the Congolese government’s refusal to negotiate with the M23 rebels, the M23 soldier entered and took the town of Goma. Here is one report I received: “Now Goma is in the hands of M23; they are controlling Goma. The battle now is in Mugunga [the former internally displaced persons’ camp were many of AGLI’s rape survivors live]. All Gisenyi borders are also controlled by the rebels.”
Clearly the Congolese army did not put up any resistance and fled. But this is the way “wars” are fought in this region. One side acquires a fearsome reputation and the opposing side retreats and flees. I do not remember one case since 1996 where the Rwandan army or Tutsi-led rebel groups, which have the reputation as the fiercest fighters in the region, have “lost” to the Congolese army, which has always fled. It also seems that the UN peace keeping force decided not to oppose the entrance into the city. I think that this is proper because the UN peace keepers are not authorized to become a fighting army against the rebel forces.
This morning I received this message from David Bucura:
“Yesterday [Monday], Theoneste, Baptiste, and Therese were doing a [children’s] peer mediation workshop in the Gisenyi Peace Center [which is only two blocks from the Congolese border]. Around 10 am, bullets were falling in Gisenyi and they had to lie down on the floor with the children. There was no way to send the children back because their parents were not home because they had run away. It was a bad day, says Baptiste and Therese. Therese fell down and her leg is not moving now.
“One person [the news reports say two people] died in Gisenyi and others are in the hospital. Many people have left Gisenyi, coming here in Kigali. The problem was to find vehicles because no buses are running, Zawadi was evacuated yesterday from the hospital and she is now at Mahuko [her home fifteen minutes from Gisenyi], but she is thinking to come in Kigali today for medical treatment. In our house now we have two families from Gisenyi. We are expecting more. Zawadi told me that the main help is to have a little funds for evacuation. Theoneste is going this morning to Gisenyi to see what is happening. Our church members in the Gisenyi area hosted many people and they do not know how long it will take. The situation is so confused. I was told that people in Goma do not want to move from their houses because they do not know where to go? The problem for our people in Goma is that, because they can't leave their houses, they have no water and no food. If the borders will be opened, they will need our help.”
M23 talk as if they plan now to move on to Bukavu in South Kivu at the southern end of Lake Kivu. I anticipate that there is going to be a very negative reaction from the international community regarding M23 conquest of Goma - Zarembka