Congo Army Flees Stricken Capital Goma as Violence Causes "Deep Concern"
There is "deep concern" as tens of thousands of civilians - as well as the Congolese army abandoning the provincial capital of Goma today - try to flee violence in the east Congo region. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in New York made a plea for more UN Peacekeepers, as the region faces tragedy of "catastrophic dimensions". Tutsu rebels expect to be in control of the city of Goma within days.
GOMA, Congo (AP) — Firing wildly, Congolese soldiers commandeered cars, taxis and motorbikes Wednesday in a retreat from advancing rebel fighters, joining tens of thousands of terrified refugees struggling to stay ahead of the violence.
As gunfire crackled in this eastern provincial capital, the Tutsi rebels said they had reached the outskirts of Goma and declared a unilateral cease-fire to prevent panic as the army retreats and residents flee.
Congo said Rwandan troops had crossed the border and attacked its soldiers — raising the specter that neighboring nations will again be drawn into Congo's war. Rwanda's Tutsi-led government immediately denied the charge, but Congo turned to Angola for help defending its territory.
As the chaos mounted, the U.S. announced its officials were leaving Goma and urged all American citizens to do the same. The State Department said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer was heading to the capital, Kinshasa, and would arrive Thursday.
"There is a lot of violence," said spokesman Sean McCormack. "This is of deep concern to us."
THE CONGO army have been seen fleeing away from the eastern Congo city of Goma as rebel fighters draw near. Several media offices have evacuated their offices "rapidly" to nearby Rwanda as a "humanitarian crisis" looms.
Panic has struck as citizens grab whatever belongings they can as rebels fire shots in the air in the distance. Tutsu rebels are approaching tonight as the situation remains tense..
Soldiers were seen fleeing in trucks with suitcases west from the provincial capital, Goma, or south on boats towards safety on the far side of Lake Kivu. Combat tanks had earlier retreated from a town six miles north of Goma as the rebels advanced, and were seen heading away from the town.
Their retreat spread panic as civilians sensed that Goma was being left to rebel fights, who have advanced through the surrounding countryside during five days of fighting.
At least 45,000 people forced from their villages by the fighting were converging on Goma, even as fears soared that the rebel army would take the city of 600,000 people during the night. Artillery fire was heard a few miles from the city's northern outskirts, a witness said.