DR Congo

Congo's Goma calm but nervous after rebel ceasefire

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By Yves Boussen

GOMA, Congo, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Congolese and U.N. troops patrolled the eastern Congolese city of Goma on Thursday after several people were killed in a bout of looting overnight, army officers and witnesses said.

The city was thrown into chaos on Wednesday night as Tutsi rebels reached the city gates before declaring a ceasefire.

"There were a lot of gunshots last night. I was very lucky to get up this morning alive," said one Goma resident who gave her name only as Kerin.

The U.N. peacekeeping force prepared to send reinforcements to the city, an important trading centre on the Congo-Rwanda border.

The fighting has sent tens of thousands of civilians running for their lives in North Kivu province, where aid workers say two years of violence has forced nearly 1 million people from their homes despite the end of Congo's broader 1998-2003 war.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier the violence was creating a humanitarian crisis of "catastrophic dimensions".

Renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda's rebels have fought an on-off rebellion since 2004 against the Congolese Army, which Nkunda accuses of siding with Rwandan Hutus who took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Gunfire died down around Goma city overnight and the boom of artillery fire fell silent around the border with Rwanda, whose genocide is a major cause of the years of strife in east Congo.

Shops lay damaged and emptied.

A Reuters reporter saw Congolese Army (FARDC) soldiers patrolling the streets, arresting drunken comrades and looters.

They arrested one soldier whom they accused of killing the owner of a restaurant whose body lay nearby.

Colonel Jonas Padiri of the Congolese Army said he and his men had entered Goma from their positions at Kibati, around 10 km (6 miles) to the north, to stop the looting.

Padiri said five people were killed overnight. U.N.-backed Radio Okapi said nine people were killed and three women raped.

Many of Goma's Tutsi residents fled across the border to the Rwandan town of Gisenyi, fearing reprisals.

"All the Tutsis have crossed. People were not feeling safe," John Kanyoni, a Tutsi businessman and mineral dealer, said by phone from Gisenyi.

Goma is on a major border crossing and Congo's main trading centre for the tin ore cassiterite.

U.N. REINFORCEMENTS

The 17,000-strong U.N. force -- the world body's biggest -- plans to redeploy peacekeepers from elsewhere to reinforce its roughly 800 troops now in Goma, Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers said on Wednesday.

However, a request from mission chief Alan Doss for a temporary increase in his force by roughly 2,000 personnel -- two battalions of soldiers, two companies of special forces and one police unit -- will be discussed in the coming weeks.

A French plan to send in up to 1,500 EU soldiers is being resisted by Germany, a Western diplomat said on Wednesday.

Congo's 1998-2003 war and a continuing humanitarian crisis have killed an estimated 5.4 million people.

Ban is sending envoys to both the Rwandan and Congolese capitals in a bid to mediate in the crisis, a spokeswoman said.

Rwanda and Congo each accuse the other of border incursions but both deny entering each other's territory.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer told reporters on Wednesday she had no evidence Rwandan troops were fighting in Congo but Washington believed Rwandan soil was being used to support the rebels.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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