Congo Rebels Seize Eastern City of Goma as Thousands Flee

UN Security Council Demands Congolese Rebels Withdraw From Goma
A M23 rebel walks past a United Nations armoured personnel carrier in the streets of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Nov. 20, 2012. Photographer: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations 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.

M23 rebels captured Goma, capital of the resource-rich North Kivu province, yesterday after resuming fighting against Congo’s army five days ago. The clashes forced at least 60,000 people living in displacement camps in the area to flee, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Geneva-based medical charity. 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.

Congo is Africa’s largest producer of tin ore, the continent’s second-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.

Shares in Banro Corp., the Toronto-based mining company that operates the Twangiza mine about 260 kilometers (162 miles) south of Goma, fell the most in three years yesterday after the city was captured.

Copper Projects

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. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. are investing in gold mines in the country, which is about the size of Western Europe.

Goma, about 1,659 kilometers (1,031 miles) east of 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.

A UN group of experts monitoring Congo’s arms embargo has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, allegations both governments deny. 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.

The U.S. State Department urged Congo, Uganda and Rwanda’s leaders to “engage in a direct and honest dialogue in pursuit of a political resolution to the immediate hostilities.” All three were meeting in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, the Daily Monitor newspaper reported.

Child Soldiers

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.

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 United Nations still ranks the country near the bottom of its Human Development Index, which measures indicators including education and income.

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