After days of stalling, Congo's M23 rebels finally made their withdrawal from the eastern city of Goma, not far from the Rwandan border, on Saturday. Their nearly two-week-long occupation there was marked first by death and violence and then by diplomatic tension as the United Nations and Western powers condemned the occupation. By the time they started their march out of town, it was quite unclear exactly what the rebels gained in Goma. It was pretty easy to see what they'd lost, though.
The M23 rebellion traces its roots back to a peace deal signed on March 23, 2009 by the Congolese government and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). The CNDP was a Rwandan-backed rebel group largely made up of former Congolese army soldiers who began an armed rebellion but then accepted a government offer to let them become a political party and integrate their troops back into the Congolese army. Now, three years later, a faction of the mutineers say that the government isn't keeping its promises and has renewed the uprising in the form of the M23 rebellion. They've so far been fighting for control of the resource-rich Kivu region, where Goma is a provincial capital.
The rebels seized Goma on November 20 without much resistance and have apparently sacked her sufficiently. Congolese government troops had fled, and United Nations peacekeepers stationed there look on as the rebels streamed into town. The M23 faction actually gained about 3,000 more troops in Goma, as both government troops and local police joined their cause. There are also reports that the rebels robbed the central bank in Goma and looted countless houses for valuables. For a time, the rebels held the airport, too, where millions of dollars worth of minerals like gold and coltan, which is used to make cell phones, are shipped out of the country every day. It's been reported that the leaders of M23 were offered top-ranking positions in the Congolese army in exchange for their peaceful retreat from the city, however government officials have insisted that they won't begin any negotiations in earnest until the M23 rebels are at least 12 miles away from Goma.
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The M23 faction lost a few things in Goma, too. They apparently also let in a bunch of troops from Rwanda, who's reportedly providing support for the M23 faction, and really pissed off the United Kingdom in the process. On Thursday, the UK cut off $33 million worth of aid to Rwanda for its role in supporting the M23 rebels. Meanwhile, two more M23 leaders, Baudoin Ngaruye and Innocent Kaina, found themselves on the UN sanctions list. And somewhat out of the M23 rebels' control is the despicable behavior of the Congolese army who raised hell, when they were retreating from Goma. Said one local resident, "There was a lot of rape, a lot of insecurity, a lot of extortion and some killings. It was a mess, and people are worried about the same kind of thing happening when they come back."
There's a strong possibility that M23 will retreat from Goma only to be met with a surprise attack from the Congolese army. And there's not really any indication that a lasting peace agreement is in the cards. For now, the pieces are being moved around on the board, but barring any international intervention, there are no winners emerging.