Congo Army Prepares Response as Goma Fall ‘Threatens’ Kabila

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army said it’s preparing a response to the capture of Goma by rebel forces as a research group warned the fall of the city threatens the survival of President Joseph Kabila’s government.

M23 rebels today pushed south from Goma, the capital and economic center of the resource-rich North Kivu province, taking the town of Sake and continuing toward South Kivu province, United Nations-backed broadcaster Radio Okapi said. The fighters now control the entire border between North Kivu and Rwanda, making it easier to receive assistance from their backers, Ben Payton, Africa analyst at Bath, U.K.-based risk analysis group Maplecroft, said in an e-mailed report.

Kabila faces “a fight to hold onto power, with his critics in Kinshasa likely to demand a change of leadership in order to rescue the situation and prevent even greater territorial losses,” Payton said.

Congo is Africa’s largest producer of tin ore, the biggest copper producer after Zambia, and the source of about half the world’s cobalt. It is also an important source of columbite-tantalite, the mineral known as coltan that is used in mobile phones and computers. A UN group of experts monitoring Congo’s arms embargo has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, allegations both governments deny.

Copper, Cobalt

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. of the U.S., Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore International Plc, and Minmetals Resources Ltd., based in Hong Kong, have copper and cobalt projects in the country. Randgold Resources Ltd., Banro Corp. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. are investing in gold mines in the country, which is about the size of Western Europe.

“The realization that the Congolese military is incapable of guaranteeing security means that the businesses in the country now face an even more uncertain operating environment,” Payton said.

Banro, which operates the Twangiza mine in South Kivu about 200 kilometers (162 miles) south of Goma, said its operations have been unaffected by developments in eastern Congo. The stock fell 3.6 percent today after sinking 13 percent yesterday.

Police broke up demonstrations against the government today in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, Radio Okapi said. Security forces deployed to block protesters in several other provincial capitals and cities, including in Kisangani, where three people died and numerous buildings burned in protests yesterday, the Kinshasa-based broadcaster said.

War Crimes

M23 captured Goma yesterday after resuming fighting against Congo’s army five days ago, ending an unofficial three-month cease-fire. The renegade group is made up of soldiers that mutinied in April and is headed by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

The UN peacekeeping force in Congo defended its attempt to stop the city from falling into rebel hands after the national army retreated. UN soldiers are in Congo to support the army, not replace them, Lieutenant-Colonel Prosper Basse, military spokesman for the peacekeeping mission, told reporters today in Kinshasa.

“The initiative of all operations is the sovereign responsibility of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said. “We will continue to support the FARDC when they express the intention, when they take the initiative for any action, because in the case of our mandate it is possible, clearly stated, that we have to support their efforts to eradicate armed groups.”

650,000 Displaced

Goma was calm this morning, according to the UN Refugee Agency, which said more than 650,000 people have fled their homes in eastern Congo since the M23 rebellion began in April.

The army is preparing a response to the fall of the city, army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli said by phone today, without giving details. “The government reassures that we’ve certainly lost the battle but not the war,” Prime Minister Matata Ponyo said in comments broadcast by Radio Okapi.

Goma, about 1,659 kilometers east of the capital, Kinshasa, is situated on the border with Rwanda at the northern edge of Lake Kivu. Historically, it has been the main transit point for minerals from the region.

Congo and Rwanda have fought directly or by proxy since the late 1990s. A 2009 peace deal between Congo and Rwandan-backed rebels improved relations between the two countries until the M23 insurgency began seven months ago.

‘Immediate Withdrawal’

The UN Security Council demanded the immediate withdrawal of Congo’s M23 rebels from the eastern city of Goma and called for sanctions against the group’s leaders and backers.

In a resolution adopted yesterday, the council also sought “clarification of reports of external support provided to the group.” The U.S. State Department said it was “gravely alarmed” by the rapid deterioration in the security situation in eastern Congo.

Kabila held talks with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, today to discuss the crisis, James Mugume, permanent secretary in Uganda’s Foreign Ministry, said in a phone interview.

The three leaders should “engage in a direct and honest dialogue in pursuit of a political resolution to the immediate hostilities,” the State Department said in an e-mailed statement.

On Nov. 13, the UN imposed sanctions on M23 commander Colonel Sultani Makenga for violations of international law, including rape and the use of child soldiers.

‘External Support’

The Security Council said it’s considering further sanctions “against the leadership of the M23 and those providing external support to the M23 and those acting in violation of the sanctions regime and the arms embargo.”

Two M23 commanders, Innocent Kaina and Baudouin Ngaruye, may be designated for targeted sanctions, it said.

Congo’s $14.7 billion economy is forecast to grow 7.2 percent this year and 8.2 percent in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund, which has a $529 million loan agreement with the country.

While the economy has been growing since the end of nearly a decade of war in 2003, the UN still ranks the country near the bottom of its Human Development Index, which measures indicators including education and income.

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