A guide to understanding what happened in Congo

November 20, 2012

The body of a Congolese army soldier lies in the road between Goma and Kibati in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on Nov. 18, 2012. (Getty Images)

While most of the world was affixed to the crisis in the Middle East, almost 2,300 miles away from the heart of the Gaza strip, Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in Congo, was rocked by explosions and machine gun fire, then taken over by M23, a rebel group that is said to have close ties with neighboring Rwanda. The new fighting has raised the possibility of a regional war.

So what has triggered the latest round of confrontation between the rebel groups and the Congolese government? 

Seven months ago, a new rebel group called M23 came into the picture in Congo. As The Post's Sudarsan Raghavan explains, the group gets its name from the date of a 2009 peace agreement, which was signed between a former militia group backed by Rwanda (called CNDP) and the Congolese National Army (FARDC).

The M23 is mostly made up of soldiers from a previous rebel movement that threatened to seize control of Goma, a city of one million people, in 2008. The rebels and the government signed a peace deal on March 23, 2009, that called for the rebels to be integrated into the national army. The M23 is named for that agreement.

But the pact fell apart this April, and as many as 700 soldiers, mostly former rebels, defected from the military and launched the M23 movement. This time they didn’t stop on the outskirts of Goma, as they did in 2008.

The rebel group, which is also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, is believed to have backing from Rwandan government, and is said to have access to advanced weapons, night-vision goggles and 120mm mortars.


Recruits of the Congolese Revolutionary Army, or M23, perform a drill during training in Rumangabo military camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Oct. 23, 2012. (James Akena/Reuters)

In these months, Congo has seen renewed fighting, while thousands of Congolese continue to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries. According to the Associated Press, after explosions and machine gun fire began in Goma, thousands of residents started fleeing their homes, many of whom have crossed the border into Rwanda.


People flee as fighting erupts between the M23 rebels and Congolese army near the airport in Goma, Congo, Nov. 19, 2012. (Melanie Gouby/Associated Press)

According to Refugees International, more than 450,000 Congolese have sought refuge in neighboring countries and about 1.5 million of them are internally displaced.


An internally displaced Congolese woman carries her belongings as she enters a United Nations base in Monigi, near Goma,  seeking shelter after being forced to flee following battles between M23 and Congolese army soldiers on Nov. 18, 2012. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of M23 and FDLR have formed an alliance and clashed with the country's military, which is backed by a United Nations Peacekeeping force.


M23 soldiers patrol Oct. 17 in Rangira. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the Associated Press, the 1,500 United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Congo were overrun by M23 rebels, but they did not open fire. The Congolese military were not too enamored by that decision.


Uruguayan U.N.  peacekeepers look through binoculars at M23 rebel positions on the outskirts of Goma on Nov. 18, 2012. (Phil Mooie/AFP/Getty Images)

United Nations peacekeepers, who did not have a mandate to fight the M23 rebels, have said that they cannot substitute for the country's military force, which is made up of a ragtag group of soldiers, many of whom have already fled Goma. 


A Congolese government soldier sits on a tank overlooking Munigi and the road to Rutshuru near Goma on Nov. 19, 2012. (Melanie Gouby/Associated Press)

The rebel group has now taken control of Goma, a city of 1 million, and is patrolling the streets as well as outer peripheries. 


Members of M23, also known as the Congolese Revolution Army, sit in a truck as they patrol a street in Goma on Nov. 20, 2012. (James Akena/Reuters)

Read Sudarsan Raghavan's article in The Post.

Anup Kaphle is the Post's digital foreign editor. He has an M.S. degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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