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DRC: M23 rebel push worries residents of Goma

Worried bikers in Goma, DRC   -  
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

Residents in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with more than a million inhabitants, are becoming increasingly afraid as the M23 rebels ("March 23 Movement") approach from the north, causing economic activity to grind to a halt as fear and uncertainty spread.

Citizens of the city of Goma in the democratic Republic of Congo express their concerns regarding the progression of dozens of armed groups whose recent advances in east have revived old animosities and led to a surge in tensions with neighboring Rwanda. 

"Today, my children also refuse to go to school," says Nsimire Foybé, a shopkeeper in the city centre, "They think it could explode at any moment".

Last week, the rebels, who some believe are being supported by Rwanda, seized the residential areas of Kiwanja and Rutshuru-centre, located 70km from Goma, as fighting continues in Rugari, a village located 40km from the city.

Kenya's President William Ruto announced Wednesday that Nairobi was deploying troops to eastern DRC in a joint regional operation against the rebel offensive.

Leaders of the seven-nation East African Community (EAC) bloc, in which Kenya is the regional heavyweight, had agreed in April to establish a joint force in order to help restore security in the DRC. So far these efforts have not been fructuous.

Speaking at a ceremony in Nairobi to flag off the deployment, Ruto declared that the troops were "on a mission to protect humanity".

"The destiny of DRC is intertwined with ours," he added, without giving details of the deployment schedule.

"We will not allow any armed groups, criminals and terrorists to deny us our shared prosperity. We owe our brotherly duty to the DRC until the job is done."

Kenya will command the force, which will also include soldiers from Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda.

Tensions with Rwanda

A Rwandan contingent will be deployed along the border, after Kinshasa objected to Kigali's participation in any operations within the DRC in relation to Kigali being accused of collaborating with the M23 rebels, which resulted in the expulsion of Vincent Karega, ambassador to Rwanda in the DRC.

The M23 rebels, a mostly Congolese group, resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, accusing the DRC government of failing to honour an agreement to integrate its fighters into the army.

Fresh advances by the militia across the North Kivu province last month prompted the UN peacekeeping mission there to increase its alert level and boost support for the Congolese army.

Demonstrations and protests

As tensions have spiked, DRC residents have staged angry protests against M23 and Kigali, with hundreds taking to the streets in the South Kivu province on Wednesday and chanting: "Let the Rwandans go home!"

The demonstration followed a protest on Monday in Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, where thousands marched through the city demanding weapons to fight against Rwanda.

The increase in violence has alarmed the international community, with the African Union appealing for a ceasefire.

Current EAC chairman, Burundi's President Evariste Ndayishimiye, said on Tuesday he held talks with his regional counterparts on "managing the security crisis" and agreed to hold a summit at a date yet to be announced.

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