INSI, the International News Safety Institute, has issued advice for journalists travelling to Goma. It says EXTREME CAUTION SHOULD BE EXERCISED IF TRAVELLING TO GOMA.
The recent takeover in Goma by March 23 (M23) is the fourth time the country has fallen to rebel hands since its independence from Belgium 52 years ago. On Tuesday 20 November the FARDC (the Congo National Army) was pushed out of Goma and MONUSCO, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC, was unable to stop it. MONUSCO was authorised to use force to protect civilians and support Congolese army operations against rebel groups and militias competing for control of mineral wealth. The UN backed the army with attack helicopters but the soldiers disappeared when M23 approached the city.
The situation is much calmer today (Wednesday 21 November) and M23 are trying to bring a sense of security to the town. Some 2,000 army troops and 700 police turned in their weapons at a large M23 rally at the stadium in Goma this morning.
There are still some UN peacekeepers in Goma but they have no power to do anything.
M23 said today that they would continue their march through the DRC.
It is unclear who is in control of the international airport, a strategic location as it is a vital lifeline for business and aid flights.
It has been reported that the M23 controls the civilian areas around the international airport, but that the airport itself is still under UN control. The airport is divided into the military side and the civilian side.
However there is also a view that the airport was seized by M23 yesterday morning, along with the rest of Goma.
The situation was volatile yesterday (Tuesday 20 November) as gun battles in the streets raged on between FARDC and M23.
The situation was much calmer today, as the army had left. There have been unconfirmed reports that the army has fled either to Sake, in the east of North Kivu, or to the south, but there is no concrete evidence of this (n.b.. Reuters reported today that Sake has been taken by the rebels).
Although there is still some UN presence in Goma, they remain “impotent”.
The FARDC declared today that they have withdrawn to regroup and reinforce, however there is skepticism as to whether this will happen. Security forces are poorly paid by the Congolese government and at an M23 rally at the stadium in Goma today (n.b. The impression was that they “surrendered’) the security forces were seen approaching the rebels and asking for a higher pay.
Journalists are advised to stay on the main roads and to avoid going into smaller residential areas. Smaller residential areas are like warrens, and difficult to get out of once you’re in.
Over the past six weeks it has become increasingly difficult to travel at night because motorcycle taxis no longer operate at night, and travelling alone is too dangerous. Some journalists choose not to travel at night for security reasons. INSI cannot recommend that journalists travel at night in this area nor take local motorbike taxis.
Reporting can be difficult because of poor telephone lines and no internet.
The general consensus is that western journalists are able to operate freely.
However the situation is difficult for local journalists who are rejecting the rebellion. The state owned radio in Goma has been taken off air and many government media workers are fleeing the area. Some are agreeing to work with M23. Some local journalists are not being harassed by M23 at all.
WORKING OUTSIDE GOMA
This morning the FARDC were deployed to some parts of Goma and there were some reports of sporadic gunfire. The fighting did not last long. Later, M23 seized Sake. They said today that they plan to capture Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province. At the time of writing, the rebels were reportedly heading to Minova, to the south of Sake.
It is believed that M23 may move to Minova, then Bukavu, then has aspirations to take the whole country. It is thought there will be little resistance because of low morale (poor pay, etc.) in the Congolese army. The other option, that M23 retreats, seems less and less likely.
Extreme caution should be exercised if choosing to work outside Goma.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
A meeting is to be held Thursday 22 November at 0700 GMT between M23 and the newly recruited / surrendered security forces to discuss their role. The rebels were initially greeted by the civilian population as they entered Goma yesterday, but there are pockets of anger directed towards the UN, who failed to protect it. This anger was directed towards westerners in general as often the civilian community fails to distinguish between the UN, western media and other NGOs.
It is difficult to gauge the mood of the civilian population and difficult to determine whether the rebels are feared or not. there was a risk of looting, although Col Seraphin Mirindi, of M23, gave these new security forces the order not to loot today.
M23 has been handing out mobile numbers on bits of paper to the civilians, to alert them of any incidents – “an informal 999”. There have been reports of small arms going around, and there was sporadic gunfire yesterday evening and last night but it was short-lived.
Contact INSI if you require an equipment list or further information for working in hostile environments – Hannah Storm, Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Note - INSI has collated this information from journalists on the ground. It has checked its authenticity as much as it can, however can not take any responsibility for ensuing problems as a result of this information.