North Kivu province Governor Julien Paluku has reassured residents of the eastern Congo city of Goma that it remains under the control of the Congolese army. He dismissed rumors that top government and military officials have fled the provincial capital towards Bukavu, in South Kivu province. Military officials in Goma vowed to defend the city against an attack by M23 rebels.
“Contrary to rumors, the city of Goma is still under the control of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC),” Governor Paluku said on Sunday. He said that he was still in the city and called on its residents to remain calm as the government tries to find a solution to the crisis.
M23 rebels, advanced to the outskirts of Goma over the weekend after overtaking the city of Kibumba on Saturday, located 30 kilometers north of Goma.
The Congolese government and residents of Kibumba have said that the rebels were reinforced by 4000 Rwandan army troops and had new military equipment, including night-vision goggles, which allowed them to overtake the city after suffering heavy losses during an earlier attack.
The UN Security Council condemned the rebels’ advance during an emergency meeting on Saturday.
“The members of the Security Council strongly condemn the resumption of attacks by the M23 and demand their immediate cessation as well as the cessation of any further advances towards the city of Goma. The members of the Security Council demand that any and all outside support and supply of equipment to the M23 cease immediately,” the Security Council said in a statement.
President Joseph Kabila held a closed-door meeting with top security officials in Kinshasa on Saturday, including Prime Minister Matata Ponyo and Army Chief of Staff Didier Etumba.
A statement provided to the press after the meeting said that the “the government and the General Staff of the FARDC had been instructed to take exceptional measures to safeguard the country.”
The statement called on the population “not to yield to poisoning and manipulation orchestrated by the enemy, to remain serene, alert, in solidarity and unity, to safeguard the homeland, in the best interests of the nation and all the Congolese communities without exception.”
The rebels’ advance has caused a new wave of displacements as people continue to flee towards the areas still controlled by the government.
Reports on Saturday claimed that some top government and military officials, including Governor Paluku, had fled Goma fearing an imminent rebel assault on the city.
Governor Paluku and army officials insisted on Sunday that this was all part of the M23 rebels’ propaganda. He said he was still in Goma and refuted “rumors” that the city was about to fall to the rebels.
“As you know, the cities of Kibati and Kilimanyoka came into the crossfire of elements of the M23 but they were stopped at Munigi, where the regular forces and those from MONUSCO are working together,” Governor Paluku said. He urged the population to remain calm.
The commander of the Republican Guard in Goma, Mike Mikombe, promised to “die with the population” in order to secure them and not to leave them in the hands of the rebels.
“The mission assigned to me is to first protect the population. If the enemy ventures to attack, they will meet fierce resistance. And I will never leave the population in the hands of the enemies of the people,” Commander Mikombe said.
He asked the population not to give into the media war being waged by the rebels.
“The enemy is trying to use all means, including sending text messages to people. We are telling the same population that we will die with them and we will not abandon them.”