, KINSHASA, Sep 2 – Congolese troops readied Monday to seize a stronghold of M23 fighters in the resource-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but there was no sign of frontline fighting as top UN officials flew in.
Troops, backed by a special United Nations force, launched a fresh assault against the M23 army mutineers late last month, with the rebels pulling back on Friday from positions around the mining hub city of Goma.
There was no fighting to be heard Monday afternoon, said an AFP photographer near the frontline some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Goma.
The lull coincided with the arrival in Goma of UN special envoy Mary Robinson.
“What happened here in Goma is terrible. I’m glad that calm has returned,” Robinson said on her arrival at the airport.
The former Irish president was to meet with the local authorities and civil society.
“I have come for the people of Goma, the women, the children. That is what is important,” Robinson went on.
The people of Goma were for the most part going about their business as usual Monday, an AFP reporter said.
Shops and markets were open and some traders reported business had picked up somewhat since the M23’s 15-kilometre (10 mile) pullback on Friday.
DR Congo forces are aiming to take back the rebel base at Kibumba, some 30 kilometres north of Goma, with government troops just some two kilometres from the insurgent base.
The attack on Kibumba is expected “in the very near future”, a senior Congolese army officer told AFP.
The army had previously claimed to have already taken Kibumba, but the reports were dismissed by rebels.
On Friday, M23 fighters retreated from positions around 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of Goma they had held since December, where they had dug in after agreeing a deal to end their 12-day occupation of the city.
The rebels said their decision for a ‘unilateral ceasefire’ and withdrawal was aimed at “creating a favourable climate” for a “political solution to the crisis”.
However, they warned that they were not prepared to wait long for the government to reciprocate.
The two parties are engaged in talks in the Ugandan capital Kampala, but these negotiations have made virtually no progress since they started at the end of last year.