M23 militias are marching towards Goma as they continue to tighten their control of the east of the DRC, replacing administrators, hospital workers and school teachers with others who pledge loyalty to the group.
Rutshuru is a regional capital in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It lies in the center of territory conquered by a rebel group known as M23. The population are having to adapt to life under a new regime, led by rebels who are establishing a state within a state and who demand absolute loyalty from their new subjects.
New jobs and road tolls
Lieutenant Colonel Vienney Kazarama is one of the founders of the M23, which was formed by deserters from the Congolese army in April this year.
The tall man in uniform summons the people of Rutshuru to the city center and holds a speech. He explains there are new rules in the so-called liberated state. He promises Rutshuru's people jobs in the adminstration, in hospitals and schools. In return they are to be loyal to the rebel government.
In the city center the rebels have set up a roadblock. Truck drivers have to pay five hundred dollars (400 euros) to be able to use the road to Goma.
The M23 are systematically establishing a state within a state in eastern DRC. They've named a president from their political wing and have also appointed ministers for social services, health and foreign affairs. They already have contacts in neighboring countries and Europe. Sultani Makenga is the current head of the M23 rebel group. He is challenging President Joseph Kabila by threatening to take over Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
Advance on Goma
Makenga says it depends on the government how the conflict will develop. "If the government wants to solve our conflict by force, we will fight them. But if they want to resolve it peacefully then we will negotiate. If it's necessary to march to Goma and capture the city, that's what we'll do," he added.
So far, the government has refused all offers to negotiate. The situation is reminiscent of the war in 2008. At that time, the M23's predecessor CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People) had seized territory and was marching on Goma. When the first missiles were fired on houses on the outskirts of the city, the government gave in. Negotiations took place and a peace treaty was agreed. The CNDP leaders pledged to integrate their 6,000 fighters into the government's army. The government agreed to reform the army, to improve the soldiers' standard of living.
In April many former CNDP fighters deserted and founded the M23 group. This was their response to the government´'s failure to keep its word, according to M23 leader Makenga.
The former leader of the CNDP was warlord Bosco Ntanganda, who is now on the wanted list of the International Criminal Court. He also deserted when President Kabila announced he planned to extradite him to the Hague. Ntaganda's present role is unclear, since relations with the official leader of the group, Sultani Makenga, are strained. The M23 are continuing to march towards Goma and are getting closer every day.
Before they reach Goma, M23 rebels will have to face the Congolese army and UN peacekeepers who have set up tanks and missile launchers on the outskirts of the city. But the soldiers' morale is low, especially since the recent fighting in Rutshuru in which M23 emerged victorious.
Thousands flee the fighting
More and more people are arriving in Goma, fleeing the violence in rebel-held areas. More than 10,000 have been left homeless. Most of them live in appalling conditions just outside Goma. Among them is Giaagi Mumi, a mother of five. "I fled the fighting in Kibumba. But here we have nothing to eat and we sleep under the open sky. At night bandits attack us," she said.