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Africa

M23 rebels threaten to topple DRC president

M23 rebels say they have started to "liberate" the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the city of Goma, govermment troops have either fled or surrendered their weapons.

The city of Goma, provincial capital of North Kivu, resembled a battlefield the day after M23 rebels had captured it . A road leading out of the city was blocked by a derelict tank, the roadside was strewn with burned-out cars. Tank and mortar shells lay unattended and abandoned. Corpses of dozens of government soldiers rotted in the midday heat. Life in eastern Congo had once again been brought to a standstill by the arrival of war.

Refugees are going hungry

Goma's biggest refugee camp is a scene of utmost deprivation. Almost 50,000 people are living here under terrible conditions.

Goma refugee camp. Photo: Goma refugee camp Photo:Simone Schlindwein

An estimated 50,000 people are living in the Goma refugee camp in very poor conditions

In the last few days, the influx of refugees doubled, says Espere Pakanie, who has been fleeing from one refugee camp to the next for months.

"There is nothing to eat here, we are starving. Most of us don't have a tent and are forced to sleep in the open air. There are no police to protect us anymore, they have all fled," he said. A few people have started returning to their villages. "But because we are so hungry, we couldn't possibly go by foot. I would never have arrived."

Government troops hand over their weapons

Meanwhile, the city's football stadium is packed. Thousands have turned up following a radio broadcast by the rebel commander ordering them to do so. Soldiers of the defeated government forces who have not fled, and the police, are also obliged to attend.

Marching in step, the soldiers parade in front of the rebel commanders and hand over their weapons.

Lieutenant Colonel Eric Makenzi, formerly of the government troops, salutes his new superior officers, the M23 commanders.

Goma residents in stadium. Photo:Simone Schlindwein Polizisten müssen zur M23 überlaufen

Goma residents were summoned to the stadium by rebel commanders

"We stayed here because we didn't want to flee. We had to defect. We had no other choice," he said.

Makenzi was among some 2,000 government troops who stayed behind while many others fled. M23 now occupy territory that stretches over 100 kilometers (62 miles) (CONVERT) along the DRC's border with Rwanda and Uganda.

The road to Kinshasa

M23's military spokesman, Colonel Vienney Kazarama appears on the platform at the stadium. The crowd rejoices. They have no alternative. The rebels insist on unswerving loyalty. At a press conference later, Kazarama threatened to march to Kinshasa and topple President Joseph Kabila. "The journey to liberate Congo has started now," Kazarama said.

Within hours, a rebel unit had taken control of Sake, a strategic town near Goma on the road running the length of Lake Kivu to Bukavu, without a shot being fired. Now the rebels are marching to Bukavu, the provincial capital of South Kivu.

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