A rebel group believed to be backed by Rwanda seized the strategic provincial capital of Goma in eastern Congo yesterday in a development that threatens to spark a new regional war. Explosions and machine-gun fire rocked the city of more than a million people 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.
After the gunfire stopped, M23 soldiers marched down the potholed main boulevards, unimpeded. Their senior commanders, who the United Nations has accused of grave crimes including recruiting child soldiers, summary executions and rape, paraded around the town in all-terrain vehicles. The 1,500 United Nations peacekeepers in the city did not assist government forces during the battle because they do not have a mandate to engage the rebels, said a Congolese military spokesman who expressed frustration over the lack of action by the peacekeepers.