Under M23 orders, Goma police and army soldiers hand in their guns

Police officers and national army soldiers still in Goma after the city fell to M23 rebels handed in their weapons on Wednesday, under M23 orders. Photo by our Observer Alain Wandimoyi.
 
 The armed rebel group M23, in control of the eastern city of Goma since Tuesday, has called on any remaining police officers and soldiers from the national Congolese army to hand in their weapons and register with M23. A police officer explains why he decided to comply with the rebels’ demands.
 
On Wednesday morning, police officers and soldiers headed to a local football stadium to register with the M23 and turn in their weapons. This turned into a public meeting, to which hundreds of Goma residents showed up to hear announcements from the M23’s spokesperson, Colonel Vianney Kazarama.
 
According to the M23, more than 2,000 national army soldiers and 700 police officers have been “registered” since Tuesday. Our Observers went to the stadium and confirmed that M23 fighters were essentially collecting weapons from the stands. According to these Observers, many soldiers had already fled the city, dressed in civilian clothing to avoid being spotted and killed by the M23.
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“I don’t see how police officers like us can continue doing our work protecting the city if they take our guns”

Bwamungo (not his real name) is a police officer in Goma. He patrols the Volcan neighbourhood. He registered with the M23 on Wednesday morning and is due to hand in his weapon on Thursday.
 
I decided to go and register with the M23 because Colonel Vianney Kazarama’s declarations reassured me. The rebels invited absolutely everybody to their meeting, and said they only wanted the best for the people.
 
Above all, I went there because of my family. My wife is pregnant, and we already have three young children, the oldest of whom is six. I’m scared that if I flee, I might step on a mine, or that the M23 might take me for a soldier and kill me. I can’t abandon my family.
 
Weapons piled up at M23 soldiers' feet in Volcan stadium.
 
"It doesn’t matter who controls the city – the M23 or the government. My mission is to continue protecting the people”
 
During the meeting on Wednesday, the rebels told us they are going to educate the police officers and former army soldiers, and teach us what they call the “ideology” of the M23 at the Mubambiro camp [a police centre near the town of Sake], which is about 20 kilometres east of Goma on the road to Bukavu. This means that after they take over Sake and Bukavu, the rebels also plan on taking the town of Mubambiro. [Editors' Note: The M23 has announced they plan to take over the entire country.] For now, they told us we should continue to work in our usual neighbourhoods.
 
I have registered, but I haven’t yet handed in my gun. I am a policeman. My mission is to protect the people. I must continue to work. Whether the city is controlled by the M23 or by the government changes nothing. On Wednesday I told them I have a gun and would hand it over to them the following day. They asked me why I kept it, and ordered me to hand it in by Thursday at the latest. But I don’t see how police officers like us can continue our work protecting the people if they take our guns.
 
M23 soldiers check weapons and register police officers and soldiers in Goma.
 
"The M23 said the wages of police officers would increase. I hope they will keep their promises, unlike the current government"
 
I don’t know what will happen in the future. The M23 promised there will be no more corruption, no more bribes to pay at border crossings, and that they will kill anyone, civilian or soldier, who is caught looting. They also promised that police officers’ wages would increase.
 
Today I only earn 45,000 Congolese francs (about 38 euros) a month. Even though the M23 rebels have been quite vague with their announcements and I’m aware that what they said was mainly intended to reassure us, I still hope they will keep their promises and not lie to us like the current government, which has done nothing for us.
 
 
Interview conducted by our Observer in Goma, Charly Kesereka,and translated from Swahili. This post was written in collaboration with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron.

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