The M23 Rebel group, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has successfully held control of the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma and beaten off counter-attacks. Now the conflict is spreading, as the rebels have seized the nearby town of Sake. So far the M23 have ignored calls from the DRC government, United Nations, and Rwanda to halt attacks and surrender control of Goma. The rebel group now looks poised to seize more towns in North Kivu and appears to be readying itself for a push into South Kivu.
Currently the rebels main stronghold is in Goma, which they siezed in-spite of bombardment by United Nations forces after meeting only weak resistance from the DRC national army. The DRC national army has been stepping up its efforts, however, and in recent days the government launched an offensive against the M23 but was beaten back. The rebel group is now moving south along Lake Kivu and appears to have gained control of Sake.
In spite of the DRC national army’s increased initiatives they have yet to score a victory against the M23. Reports are circulating that the DRC and its allied militias abandoned Sake after their failed counter-offensive and retreated to Minova. The rebels have stated their intention to gain control of Bukavu, a town at the Souther tip of Lake Kivu. Minova stands in their way, but whether the government can hold off their advance or will merely retreat remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, there are wide-spread accusations of rape, kidnapping, and theft in Goma. Civilians have been fleeing Sake en masse, hoping to avoid the bloodshed and potential abuse now that the city has fallen. This will create more pressure on local aid agencies and will strain the already weak civil society and government in East DRC.
Protests have also broke out around the DRC, with various groups protesting the governments inability to handle the situation. The DRC has suffered years of violence and is viewed as an unstable nation with a weak and often ineffective government. Numerous groups have grievances with the government and there is a serious risk that the conflict with the M23 will encourage other groups to launch their own attacks against the government.
The M23 group claims that they want to negotiate with the government for improved conditions. According to the M23, which is essentially a mutinous group of army soldiers, they revolted due to poor conditions. They are now demanding dialogue with DRC President Joseph Kabilia. In recent days, however, the M23 have become more vocal about their desire to overthrow the government completely.
The leaders of Uganda and Rwanda have both renounced the attack and any potential involvement on their country’s part. The United Nations Security Council meanwhile passed resolution 2076 demanding the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group. Given that the M23 have already resisted aerial bombardments by the UN and UN ground troops not being committed to battle, the resolution will likely carry little weight.
The region is of strategic importance dye to its rich deposits of silver, gold, and other valuable minerals. Rwanda, a much smaller but more stable nation, has a history of interfering in the region and is believed by many to be supporting the rebel. There are also reports that Rwandan troops crossed the border when the rebels seized control of Goma. Unless a ceasefire can be brokered through negotiations or the government can defeat the rebel group in coming days, there is a high risk that this conflict will spread throughout East DRC and perhaps even farther.