GOMA, Congo A rebel group created just seven months ago seized the strategic provincial capital of Goma, home to more than 1 million people in eastern Congo, and its international airport Tuesday, according to a rebel spokesman and witnesses.
Explosions and machine-gun fire rocked the lakeside city as the M23 rebels pushed forward on two fronts: toward the city center and along the road that leads to Bukavu, another provincial capital which lies to the south. Civilians ran down sidewalks looking for cover and children shouted in alarm.
By early afternoon the gunfire had stopped and M23 soldiers, purportedly backed by Rwanda, marched down the potholed main boulevards, unimpeded.
Their senior commanders paraded around the town in all-terrain vehicles, waving to the thousands of people who left their barricaded houses to see them.
The U.N. peacekeepers, known by their acronym MONUSCO, were not helping the government forces during Tuesday’s battle because they do not have a mandate to engage the rebels, said Congolese military spokesman Olivier Hamuli, who expressed frustration over the lack of action by the peacekeepers.
“MONUSCO is keeping its defensive positions. They do not have the mandate to fight the M23. Unfortunately, the M23 did not obey the MONUSCO warnings and went past their positions [at the airport]. We ask that the MONUSCO do more,” he said.