Rebels Threaten Eastern Congo Tens of thousands of civilians are on the run in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebels are threatening to take over the eastern city of Goma. Congolese and UN troops are retreating from the battleground after being attacked by rock-throwing mobs.
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Rebels Threaten Eastern Congo

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Rebels Threaten Eastern Congo

Rebels Threaten Eastern Congo

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Eastern Congo may be the most dangerous place on Earth, and it's getting worse. A rebel army is moving on the biggest city, Goma. Hundreds of thousands of people are running for their lives. This is the region of infamous ethnic killing between the many people who call themselves Hutus and the far fewer Tutsi.

Hez Holland is a correspondent with Reuters. He's been reporting from Goma. He joins us now. Hez, welcome. And remind us, this is also a region of enormous wealth - timber and minerals. People have been fighting over it for a long time.

Mr. HEZ HOLLAND (Reporter, Reuters): At least. It's historically been a curse, what with the mineral wealth and, as you said, the timber, has been something that has been fought over for - since the Belgians. It's always been a place where minerals have been extracted and exploited, and the people have always been just pawns in the great game of any kind of colonial power, really.

CHADWICK: Well, now, there's this rebel group led by a man named General Nkunda. He is a former Congolese general. And it is moving on the city of Goma. What are you seeing there now?

Mr. HOLLAND: Goma is a huge U.N. base, has a huge U.N. base. It's the military base for Eastern Congo. So, it's incredibly important. And this morning, we went up to the front line, and there was heavy gunfire and what appeared to be retreating, both U.N. military troops and government troops. Things have quieted down this afternoon. The town itself is very quiet, feels like a Sunday afternoon. No shops are open. Very few people are around.

CHADWICK: But in the last two days, I've read reports from the area that people in the city have been stoning the U.N. troops there because they're angry at them for not protecting the city.

Mr. HOLLAND: That's certainly the case, and the most important thing about Eastern Congo is that things move very fast. So, last night, there was shooting all around town. The U.N. were all locked in their bunkers, and there was a lot of rioting yesterday afternoon, lots of stones being thrown, and some people tried to break into the U.N. compound, and they were pushed back. I mean, there were shots fired by U.N. troops, and one protester was certainly killed, and reports - other reports say up to three people died.

There were thousands of people who have fled previous conflicts, and they're living in temporary shelters for years and years, and these people are having to flee again. The population are really scared. I mean, it's a humanitarian disaster. The real problem is that all the aid agencies that are needed can't operate at all.

CHADWICK: All the worst things that you hear about these wars - the forced recruitment of child soldiers, the brutality, the frequent rapes - human rights groups have said all this applies to General Nkunda. Who is he, and what does he want?

Mr. HOLLAND: His aim is to protect what he calls his Tutsi minority, who have been variously persecuted both within Rwanda and Eastern Congo. He has two large plots of power, which were split by a road. What he seems to be trying to do is to link these two pockets of power so that he has power right in the Rwanda border all the way through his territory.

CHADWICK: Let me ask you a little bit more about General Nkunda.

Mr. HOLLAND: Yeah.

CHADWICK: He's supposed to have, from what I read, about 8,000 militia men under his control. There are 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers there. Why can't they control the situation?

Mr. HOLLAND: I guess the real answer is that his group are extremely well-funded and well-trained, and to an extent, the U.N. has always been limited by various bureaucratic hurdles. They're controlled thousands of miles away in New York. The whole communication system within the U.N. is difficult, so they're slow moving to react to what is a very much smaller force, and they're very spread out. I mean, Congo is, I think, the third largest country in Africa. It's vast. Just to try and control any portion of it is extremely difficult.

CHADWICK: Hez Holland is a Reuters correspondent reporting from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hez, thank you.

Mr. HOLLAND: Thanks.

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