Congolese rebels are advancing south after their capture of the eastern city of Goma two days ago, the United Nations said, as African leaders prepared to hold a summit to discuss the crisis in the region.
Fighting is taking place between M23 rebels and pro-government militia outside Minova, about 24 kilometers (15 miles) southwest of Goma in South Kivu province, UN spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai said in an interview today in the capital, Kinshasa. The clashes come after the fighters seized the town of Sake yesterday.
“In Minova, there are confrontations between Mai Mai and the M23 about 2 kilometers north of the town,” Mounoubai said. Minova is situated on Lake Kivu, on the border of the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces.
Congo’s Kivu provinces are the world’s largest source of columbite-tantalite, the mineral known as coltan that’s used in mobile phones and computers, according to Eurasia Group, the New York-based risk consultancy. The Central African nation is also the continent’s biggest producer of tin ore, most of which is mined in the Kivus. Banro Corp., based in Toronto, operates the Twingiza gold mine about 200 kilometers south of Goma.
M23 captured Goma after ending an unofficial three-month cease-fire with the Congolese army, which has fled the city. 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. A UN group of experts monitoring Congo’s arms embargo has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, allegations both governments deny.
The UN experts’ report, released yesterday in New York, said the effective commander of the rebels is Rwandan Minister of Defense General James Kabarebe.
“We judge the overall body of evidence of Rwandan involvement with M23 in the DRC to be credible and compelling,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening said today in a statement.
The experts’ report said Ugandan officials have also been aiding the insurgents, support the U.K. statement described as “of a lower intensity and less systematic than Rwanda’s.”
Congolese President Joseph Kabila, his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame and Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni met in Kampala yesterday to discuss the capture of Goma. Kagame and Museveni urged M23 to “immediately stop its offensive and pull out of Goma,” they said in a joint statement e-mailed late yesterday.
African leaders will gather in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, on Nov. 24 to discuss proposals for the rebels to withdraw from Goma and allow Congolese military forces to re-enter the town, Ugandan Minister of State for Regional Affairs Asuman Kiyingi said in a phone interview today.
Heads of state from the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes Region have been invited to attend the meeting, he said. The Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation regional bloc that includes Congo, condemned the capture of the city while demanding the rebels’ immediate withdrawal and a negotiated end to the crisis.
“We are calling for negotiations,” Kiyingi said. “The return of Congolese soldiers will depend on the success of the negotiations.”
Most cities in Congo are calm after two days of demonstrations against Goma’s fall, Mounoubai said. Isiro, in Orientale province, has been declared a “dead city” by civil society groups, who have encouraged residents to stay at home and businesses to remain shut, he said.
Goma, about 1,659 kilometers 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.
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.
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.