By Spy Uganda Correspondent
M23 rebels plan to take over the trading hub of Goma on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s border with Rwanda to force negotiations with the Congolese government, according to a report by a United Nations independent group of experts published Friday.
The rebels, who Congo says are backed by neighboring Rwanda, want amnesty, recovery of their assets, integration into the army and political positions, according to the report, which sources six captured M23 rebels and encompasses almost a year of investigation through April.
The prisoners said the goal of M23’s leader, Sultani Makenga, was “to attack and occupy Bunagana, Rutshuru and Rumangabo towns, cut off the strategic Goma-Rutshuru road, and then take Goma,” according to the report. While the rebels have yet to attack Goma, this week they took Bunagana, which borders Uganda, increasing tensions in the resource-rich region.
The M23 previously occupied Goma in 2012 before their defeat by Congo’s army and U.N. peacekeepers. The group was mostly inactive until November, when they began attacking Congolese security forces and stealing weapons after confidential talks broke down with the government, according to the experts’ report.
More than 170,000 people have been displaced by the fighting since that time, the U.N. refugee agency said last week.
The M23 leadership is largely made up of members of Congo’s Tutsi community, who say they are defending the interests of Rwandan-language speakers in the region and fighting Hutu rebel groups with links to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
The renewed rebellion has led to demonstrations against Rwanda in some Congolese cities. The M23 said in an emailed statement Friday that “it will not always remain a passive observer” of what it described as “multiple calls for violence, murder, ethnic hatred and xenophobia by the country’s civil and political leaders.”
Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi warned against “falling into the trap of xenophobia” in a speech to his council of ministers on Friday, while saying that the country “is facing an attack by Rwanda, under the cover of M23, an attack that violates all international treaties.”
The group of experts also said that preliminary information suggests an attack on a U.N. helicopter in March that killed 8 peacekeepers was caused by direct fire from a hill under M23 control.