DR Congo police arrive in Goma as M23 rebels delay pull-out

Congolese police officers arrive on a ferry at a port in Goma, 30 November 2012 The police travelled by ferry from Bukavu, which is further south on Lake Kivu

A contingent of police has arrived by boat in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo city of Goma, which was captured by rebels last week.

The UN says the estimated 450 officers have yet to deploy as the M23 rebels have not pulled out of the lakeside city - as agreed with regional leaders.

There are reports of widespread looting in the city, which rebel fighters say they will now leave by Sunday.

The rebels have begun to withdraw from other recently captured towns.

Since the M23 rebels mutinied and deserted from the army in April, some 500,000 people have fled their homes in the ensuing unrest in the mineral-rich region.

The UK government has suspended aid to Rwanda, amid concerns about the country's role in the conflict.

Both Rwanda and neighbouring Uganda strongly deny UN accusations that they are backing the M23.

'Residents indoors'

Manodje Munubai, spokesman for the 19,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo (Monusco), said the rebels were first meant to leave Goma by Thursday - but the deadline keeps shifting.

Who are the M23 rebels?

  • Named after the 23 March 2009 peace accord which they accuse the government of violating
  • This deal saw them join the army before they took up arms once more in April 2012
  • Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army
  • Mostly from minority Tutsi ethnic group
  • Deny being backed by Rwanda and Uganda
  • Believed to have 1,200 to 6,000 fighters
  • International Criminal Court indicted top commander Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda in 2006 for allegedly recruiting child soldiers
  • The UN and US imposed a travel ban and asset freeze earlier this month on the group's leader, Sultani Makenga

"They've been experiencing logistic difficulties - they didn't say anything more than that," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

The M23's military commander Brig Gen Sultani Makenga blamed the UN for delaying their withdrawal.

"Monusco is beginning to block the movement… They are blocking the recovery of our logistics. We are waiting for the problem to be solved to withdraw," he told AFP news agency.

Congolese policemen who travelled to Goma by boat on Lake Kivu from Bukavu, 200km (125 miles) further south, had not yet disembarked, Mr Munubai said.

The city is reported to be tense ahead of the pull-out and re-entry of Congolese armed forces.

Bernard Balibuno from the Catholic aid agency Cafod, who visited Goma earlier on Friday, says food in the city is scare, residents are scared and staying in their homes.

"Yesterday and today there's been a lot of looting in town; people are seeing their cars being taken; armed people [are] visiting houses asking for money," he told the BBC.

It was not clear who was responsible for the pillaging as all prisoners had been freed from the jails and were also roaming the city, he said.

M23 spokesman Lt Col Vianney Kazarama told the BBC's Great Lakes service that M23 troops had begun to leave Sake, a strategic town 27km from Goma.

Gunmen carrying packs and crates of ammunition trekked down steep hillsides into the town before regrouping on the main road, an AFP photographer reported.

Residents reported seeing dozens of rebel trucks carrying food and ammunition leaving frontline positions and heading towards Goma, the agency said.

According to the accord mediated by Uganda, the rebels are to pull back to a 20km buffer zone around Goma.

It also stipulates that the M23 will leave behind 100 soldiers - who together with 100 members from the Congolese armed forces and 100 UN peacekeepers, will guard the airport.

The UN has warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in the region because of the recent fighting.

Some five million people died during the 1997-2003 DR Congo conflict, which drew in several regional countries, including both Rwanda and Uganda.

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