Rebels who recently took over the largest city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Goma, were told to leave by the United Nations, the United States, and regional governments. The insurgents are talking, however, about pushing on towards the capital of Kinshasa.
The majority of fighters in the M23 rebel group—notorious for human rights abuses—are defected Congolese soldiers who started battling the army in April. The U.N. believes the group is backed by the Rwandan government.
M23 rebels held a victory rally in Goma, a city of about half a million people, after taking it over on Tuesday. They took over reportedly without firing a single shot against Congolese soldiers or U.N. peacekeepers, who had been ordered to withdraw.
The M23 appears well-armed, with night-vision equipment, mortars, uniforms, well-supplied, and have a number of arms and munitions.
“They exhibit many characteristics of a strong, disciplined, established military force with sophisticated tactics and operations, including night operations, which are not characteristic of traditional performance,” Roger Meece, head of the U.N.’s Congo peacekeeping force, said in a press release.
While Meece’s office has not been able to investigate the claims, Meece said such characteristics suggest foreign support.
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday demanded that the M23, headed by alleged war criminal Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda, leave the city.
There should be a “cessation of any further advances by the M23,” it said, adding that “its members [should] immediately and permanently disband and lay down their arms.”
It cited the rebel group‘s “abuses of human rights, including summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence and large scale recruitment and use of child soldiers.” The group has also uprooted some 60,000 people in the region, says the U.N.
Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama of M23 addressed a crowd in the Volcanoes Stadium in Goma, inciting a march on the capital.
“Do you want us to march to Kinshasa?” Kazarama asked, and the crowd shouted back: “Yes!” according to the BBC.
He said, “The journey to liberate [DR] Congo has started now,” and outlined the course of action: the M23 will move on Bukavu, a city in the eastern Congo with a population of about 800,000 people, before going to Kinshasa.
In a press briefing Wednesday transcribed on the U.S. State Department website, department spokesman Mark Toner said that the presidents of Rwanda, the DR Congo, and Uganda need “to continue to hold a dialogue in this” to halt the M23‘s advances.