M23 beats a tactical retreat, troubles in Goma

As readers will know, a lot has happened in recent days. M23 launched a major offensive, taking the strategic border town of Bunagana, as well as Rutshuru, the territorial capital. This advance was an embarrassment for the Congolese army, as 600 of their soldiers fled to Uganda and their commander of the military region, General Vainceur Mayala, reportedly sought refuge with the UN. A UN soldier also died due to an M23 mortar round, and the blue helmets engaged their attack helicopter against the mutineers.

Mayala, along with another senior Congolese officer, is now reported to be on his way out after over six years as the head of the military region. The Congolese government, meanwhile, has repeated its accusation of Rwandan involvement in M23, saying that whole battalions of Rwandan troops took place this offensive.

Now, the M23 has beat a tactical retreat from the towns it captured, in some places reportedly leaving police forces loyal to them behind. One of their officers told me that this was because some Congolese officers were trying to organize a massacre of the local population there and stick them with the blame; the army denies this.

In Goma, in the meantime, fear and anger spread as people worried about a possible attack on town. In a few places this resulted in xenophobic outpourings. A group of youths at the Université de Goma began attacking Tutsi students, throwing stones at them and calling them names. Police reportedly had to intervene and escort some of the Tutsi student to the neighboring Rwandan town of Gisenyi. Elsewhere, motorcycle taxi drivers grouped together to attack Tutsi, as well.

The M23 has accused Governor Julien Paluku of being behind this; the victimization of Tutsi has been one of their main justifications for leaving the army and starting a new rebellion. Governor Paluku’s people have retorted that M23 is cynically paying people to harass Tutsi, so as to have a pretext for their rebellion. The presence of large numbers of motorcycle taxi driver could be an indication of some sort of organization behind this, as in some places up to 80 motorcycles allegedly gathered to harass Tutsi.