By Robyn Dixon
3:38 PM EST, December 1, 2012
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Two weeks after seizing Goma, the M23 rebels withdrew Saturday with a warning that they still could retake the key eastern Congo city.
M23, backed by neighboring Rwanda, caused a geopolitical crisis with its surprise capture of Goma nearly two weeks ago.
They embarrassed Congolese President Joseph Kabila, whose troops gave up the city without a fight. They exposed Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose persistent military interference in one of the world’s most troubled regions was widely condemned.
And they triggered local criticism of the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission, with Congolese complaining that the world body’s troops should have repelled the rebels -- even as government forces retreated.
M23, accused of myriad human rights abuses, is the latest successor to a string of militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled east with strong ethnic and military links to the Kagame regime, always denied by Rwandan authorities. A recent U.N. report on the conflict offered strong evidence of Rwanda’s military support for M23.
Congo’s east has seen years of conflict, much of it linked to internecine struggles to control minerals and other wealth, with regional and ethnic tensions complicating the picture.
The rebels withdrew after intense regional and international pressure on M23 leaders, which culminated in a deal last weekend reached in Kampala, the capital of neighboring Uganda.
Despite the withdrawal to a town north of Goma, one M23 commander noted to The Times that the rebels could retake the city any time if Kabila’s government failed to meet their demands, which include influential positions, improved infrastructure and moves to reduce corruption.
“Leaving Goma is not a problem. We will be just 20 kilometers away, so taking over Goma again is not a problem for us. We can return at any time,” said Seraphin Mirindi Murhula, the commander.