GOMA, Congo -- Rebels in Congo believed to be backed by Rwanda postponed their departure Friday from the key eastern city of Goma by 48 hours for "logistical reasons," defying for a second time an ultimatum set by neighboring African countries and backed by Western diplomats.
The delay raises the possibility that the M23 rebels don't intend to leave the city they seized last week, giving credence to a United Nations Group of Experts report which argues that neighboring Rwanda is using the rebels as a proxy to annex territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo.
"We will be out of Goma on Sunday, and will go back to our initial positions in Kibumba," M23 rebel spokesman Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama said on Friday, referring to a town 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Goma.
The regional bloc representing the nations bordering Congo had issued a Friday deadline for the M23 fighters to retreat, after the rebels had thumbed their nose at an earlier ultimatum. Kazarama's announcement suggests the rebels are dragging their feet.
In a sign of how confused the situation remained on Friday morning, a barge carrying around 280 Congolese policemen arrived at Goma port, on the banks of Lake Kivu. The policemen had fled when the rebels took the city, and were returning to resume control of the city on Friday, as had been earlier agreed.
The Congo government police appeared disoriented, unsure what to do and they did not disembark from the barge, as M23 fighters patrolled the port.
The M23 rebels are widely believed to be supported by Rwanda, which according to the U.N. report, has provided them with battalions of soldiers, arms and financing. Congo, an enormous, sprawling Central African nation, has twice been at war with its much smaller but more affluent and better organized neighbor.
The eight-month-old M23 rebellion is led by fighters from a now-defunct rebel group, who agreed to lay down their arms on March 23, 2009, in return for being allowed to join the ranks of the Congolese army. M23 takes its name from the date of that accord, and the rebellion began in April, when hundreds of soldiers defected from the military, saying that they were not well paid and were marginalized within the army.