GOMA – DR Congo soldiers marched in the eastern city of Goma on Tuesday, an AFP journalist said, in a bid to reassure locals who are unsettled at perceived inaction against M23 rebels.
The march comes a day after violent protests in Goma against the East African Community’s (EAC) military force, which deployed late last year to pacify the turbulent region.
There is mounting frustration among some Congolese people over what they view as an unwillingness of EAC troops to fight the M23, which has seized swathes of territory in North Kivu province.
Congolese troops marched through the city of more one million people, where shops remained closed after protesters blockaded streets and looted businesses the previous day.
Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Ndjike, a military spokesman, told reporters that the aim was to “reassure the population” that the army was there and prepared for any eventuality.
M23 rebels re-emerged from dormancy in late 2021, claiming that the Democratic Republic of Congo had ignored a pledge to integrate them into the army.
The Tutsi-led group subsequently won a series of victories against the army and occupied chunks of territory in North Kivu, including much of the region north of Goma.
Meanwhile, Congo’s government has blamed the M23 rebels for an attack on a helicopter that killed a United Nations peacekeeper, as hundreds in the eastern city of Goma protested against over spiralling insecurity in the region.
A helicopter operated by the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) came under fire on Sunday after taking off from the city of Beni. A South African peacekeeper was killed and another one wounded.
Neither South Africa nor Monusco said who might be responsible, nor what kind of weapon was used to target the helicopter or what caused the casualties.
The Kinshasa government blamed the M23 in a statement on Monday, Reuters reported. The group, which launched a major offensive last year, denied the accusation.
With around 18,200 personnel, Monusco has been deployed in eastern Congo since taking over from a previous UN operation in 2010. Its mandate includes supporting the Congolese government’s effort to stabilise the region.
But it has been the target of several sometimes violent protests against insecurity that have broken out in and around Goma over the past year.
Protesters accuse Monusco and a regional force set up in April last year of not doing enough to protect civilians and end bloodshed.
In a separate incident on Monday, armed men suspected to be from a local Mai-mai militia killed a ranger and wounded two others in Virunga National Park, the park said in a statement.
Virunga, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas around 300km north of Goma, is caught in the middle of militias fighting for control over land and natural resources.
More than 200 rangers have been killed in past attacks that were frequently blamed on various rebel groups.
The park warned that such attacks, which waned in 2022, had become more frequent again in recent months.
AFP and Reuters