Hundreds of government soldiers and police in the Democratic Republic of Congo have surrendered to rebels at a stadium in Goma, Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri reported from the stadium.
Moshiri reported on “extradordinary scenes”, as thousands of security officers came to hand in their arms.
“[The surrendered officers] didn’t have a choice,” she said.”He told them that they had a choice either to have peace in the city, or to leave the city.”
The M23 rebel group, believed to be backed by Rwanda, seized the provincial capital of Goma in eastern Congo on Tuesday, in a development that threatens to spark a new, regional war, officials and witnesses said.
Explosions and machine-gun fire rocked the lakeside city as the M23 rebels pushed forward on two fronts: toward the city centre 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.
Plans to ‘liberate’
Rebel forces in eastern Congo said on Wednesday they planned to take control of the whole of the vast central African country after they captured the eastern town of Goma – home to more than 1 million people – as well as an international airport while United Nations peacekeepers looked on.
A spokesperson for the M23 rebels, a group widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, said they planned to “liberate” the country, by moving to the town of Bukavu and then marching on the capital, Kinshasa, nearly 1,600km away.
The rebels have previously said they were seeking talks with DRC President Joseph Kabila over the failed implementation of a peace deal that ended a previous rebellion in 2009.
“The journey to liberate Congo has started now … We’re going to move on to Bukavu and then to Kinshasa. Are you ready to join us?” Vianney Kazarama, spokesperson for the M23 rebels, told the crowd of more than 1,000 in a stadium in Goma.
The DRC president Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan rival Paul Kagame hare meeting for face-to-face meetings over conflict in eastern Congo, Ugandan officials said Wednesday.
“President Kabila and President Kagame held a two-hour meeting together on Tuesday night,” Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa told the AFP news agency, after the meeting in the Ugandan capital.
Thousands of residents fled across the border to Rwanda, the much-smaller nation to the east which is accused of funnelling arms and recruits to the M23 rebels.
By early afternoon the gunfire had stopped and M23 soldiers marched down the potholed main boulevards, unimpeded.
Their senior commanders, who the United Nations have accused of grave crimes including recruiting child soldiers, summary executions and rape, paraded around the town in all-terrain vehicles, waving to the thousands of people who left their barricaded houses to see them.
The United Nations 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 spokesperson Olivier Hamuli, who expressed frustration over the lack of action by the peacekeepers.
“MONUSCO is keeping its defencive 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.
A UN spokesperson said in New York said that the nearly 1,500 UN peacekeepers in Goma held their fire to avoid triggering a battle.
The peacekeepers “cannot substitute for the efforts of national forces” in Congo, Eduardo del Buey, the spokesperson, said.
On Wednesday the Security Council will review the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Congo. A resolution adopted Tuesday by the Security Council asks the UN secretary-general to recommend possible redeployment, and possible “additional force multipliers”.
The resolution approved unanimously by the council imposes targeted sanctions, including a travel ban and assets freeze on the M23 rebel group leadership. But it did not name two countries accused by Congo of supporting the rebels: Rwanda and Uganda.
Al Jazeera And Agencies