GOMA, Congo Rebels purportedly backed by Rwanda and Uganda stepped up their patrols Monday of this key eastern Congo city that they seized last week, even as a midnight deadline issued by a regional bloc for them to withdraw loomed.
The M23 rebels said Monday that they plan to move their headquarters to this city of 1 million later this week, another sign that they do not intend to leave by midnight.
Armed rebels guarded the Central Bank of Congo while United Nations peacekeepers stood watch over a gas station. Many shops closed early Monday, and few students attended reopened schools.
The Congolese military, which lost Goma last week, was regrouping in the town of Minova, 36 miles to the south, but they appeared disorganized and not in position to launch an immediate assault on Goma.
The deadline was issued by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region on Saturday in Kampala, the capital of neighboring Uganda. The regional group is attempting to negotiate an end to the fighting and did not threaten any consequences if the rebels don’t depart.
Rwanda and Uganda belong to the group but they are hardly neutral. Both countries back the rebels, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday, and they would be unlikely to go to war with M23 over the seizure of Goma.
M23’s military chief would not indicate whether his fighters planned to respect the withdrawal time limit. Reached by telephone at an undisclosed location, he said he was on his way to Kampala for talks.
“We will talk about all of this in coming hours,” said Gen. Sultani Makenga.