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Aid workers, civilians flee as rebels take key DR Congo city (+video)

Rebels took control of Goma, the main city in the east of DR Congo. Congo's government has said it will not negotiate with them, raising fears of renewed fighting.

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Tens of thousands of civilians were fleeing and international aid workers evacuating Tuesday as a rebel army in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo took control of the main city in the country’s east. 

Goma fell to the M23 rebels after Congo’s government Army deserted the city, which is home to more than 1 million people and host to hundreds of charities and a large United Nations base. The rebels had swept south from the forested hills to the north and, during five days of fighting, won control of town after town on the road into Goma. 

“There was a lot of noise of fighting in the north of the city early this morning, but then it stopped, and just some two hours later, I saw the rebels marching past my house,” says Joachim Kabori, a travel agent in Goma. “They are not being aggressive, they are disciplined. Many people are welcoming them, and they truly control Goma now. There is no representative left here of the government or the FARDC [Congo’s Army].” 

Congo’s government in the capital, Kinshasa, more than 1,000 miles to the east, vowed that it would not negotiate with the M23, raising fears that it will order its troops back to regain the city, leading to civilian casualties. 

The rebel movement is made up of as many as 2,000 troops who deserted Congo’s national Army in April, claiming that they were not being paid properly and their officers were not being promoted. Those were promises made in a 2009 peace deal that ended an earlier rebellion by many of the same soldiers, mostly from the Tutsi tribe that claims it is marginalized in both politics and military strategy in Congo’s east. 

Goma was last threatened in 2008, by another mostly Tutsi movement called the CNDP, whose troops and commanders now largely make up the ranks of the M23.

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