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Fear taking control in Congo

Congolese national police arrived at a port on Lake Kivu in the city of Goma on Friday.
Congolese national police arrived at a port on Lake Kivu in the city of Goma on Friday.James Akena /Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya — Lootings. Assassinations. A spreading sense of lawlessness.

That was the alarming picture that emerged Friday from Goma, a rebel-held city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, despite vows by the rebels to withdraw peacefully.

Human rights groups said the M23 rebels who captured Goma last week were going on an assassination campaign as they prepared to leave, creating a vortex of crime and confusion.

“I think it will be extremely chaotic over the next few days,’’ said Ida Sawyer, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

On Friday morning, residents in Goma reported that the rebels were piling cases of ammunition and other looted supplies onto trucks, with some of it heading toward neighboring Rwanda, while a new letter to a UN Security Council committee said the Rwandan Army had crossed the border into Congo and had helped the fighters capture Goma.


Rwandan troops ‘‘openly entered into Goma through one of the two official border crossings,’’ said the letter, which was written by Steve Hege, the coordinator of a UN investigative panel, and leaked by a third party. The investigative panel has accused Rwanda — with help from Uganda — of creating, equipping, and commanding the rebels, and in his letter Hege contended that once the rebels and Rwandan soldiers chased the Congolese army out of Goma, ‘‘these troops together took control over the entire city, marching through downtown dressed in a combination of RDF and new M23 uniforms,’’ using RDF to signify the Rwandan Defense Force.

Rwanda has denied any covert involvement in this recent round of conflict in eastern Congo, which is threatening to destabilize the country. But Rwanda has sent thousands of soldiers across the border to overthrow the Congolese government at least twice in the past, justifying such actions by blaming Congo for insecurity across the entire region.


Some of Rwanda’s staunchest allies, including the United States, have recently cut aid to Rwanda amid the allegations of Rwandan meddling in Congo. On Friday, the BBC reported that the British government had suspended more than $33 million in aid, which Rwanda desperately needs to keep its government running.

Congo and Rwanda seem to be heading into yet another turbulent, acrimonious phase. It began this spring when more than 1,000 former rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese Army mutinied. The rebels named themselves the M23 after March 23, 2009, the date of a failed peace deal between the two sides.

Most of the rebel commanders were Tutsi, the same minority ethnic group that dominates politics and the economy in Rwanda, and many had fought in the Rwandan Army.