The UN Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to sanction the leaders of Congo's M23 rebel force, which hours earlier occupied the eastern Congolese city of Goma as UN peacekeepers stood by without resisting.
But it did not name two countries accused of supporting the Congo rebels: Rwanda and Uganda.
The council demanded that the M23 rebels withdraw from Goma, disarm and disband, and insisted on the restoration of the crumbing Congolese government authority in the country's turbulent east.
The resolution adopted imposes targeted sanctions, including a travel ban and assets freeze, on the M23 rebel group leadership. Individual nations are supposed to enforce the sanctions and report to the council.
The resolution also calls for an immediate end to external support to the rebels and asks the UN secretary-general to report on the allegations of foreign support while expressing its readiness to take appropriate measures.
Naming commanders rare step
It took the rare step in a resolution of singling out two M23 commanders by name: Innocent Kaina and Baudouin Ngaryu, and called for the council's sanctions committee to review their activity and unnamed other individuals.
Unnamed in the resolution were Rwanda and Uganda, which have been identified as supporters of the M23 rebellion by a UN panel of experts' report due out Friday and leaked to the AP.
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that an advance copy of the report that it has reviewed names Rwanda and Uganda as supporting M23.
"Sadly, this resolution fails to name Rwandan officials known by the UN to have supported M23's atrocities from day one," said the UN director for Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion. "Despite its influence on Rwanda, in public the U.S. government has been inexplicably silent," he added.
Rwanda's representative spoke to the council after the vote to deny that his country is involved in the Congolese rebellion. Uganda has previously denied involvement.
Rebel fighters who defected from the Congo military seven months ago, seized control of a strategic eastern provincial capital and its international airport Tuesday, raising the spectre of a regional war after the government refused to negotiate over their list of demands.
Explosions and machine-gun fire rocked the lakeside city, home to more than one million people, as the M23 rebels appeared to push forward on two fronts: toward the city centre and along the road that leads to Bukavu, another provincial capital that lies to the south.
By Tuesday afternoon, the gunfire had stopped and 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, waving to the thousands of people who left their barricaded houses to congratulate them on their victory.
Reports of looting and abductions
"People were out in the streets cheering them," freelance journalist Phil Moore told CBC News, adding that others in Goma "who are against the rebels, are largely shut up in their homes for fear of reprisal attacks."
Moore described the feeling in Goma as mixed, and that people had generally had enough of the ongoing fight for control over the mineral rich part of the country.
"I visited a hospital where a 12-year-old boy was lying in a bed with his leg amputated from a stray bullet," he said.
Thousands of Goma residents fled across the border to Rwanda Tuesday, according to residents of the lakeside city of Gisenyi.
Eduardo del Buey, deputy spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, said the UN had received reports the "M23 has wounded civilians, continued abductions of women and children, destroyed and looted property and intimidated journalists and those who have attempted to resist their control."
Congo's military spokesman Olivier Hamuli criticized the nearly 1,500 UN peacekeepers in the region, known by their acronym MONUSCO, for not helping government forces during Tuesday's battle because of their mandate to not engage rebel forces.
"We ask that the MONUSCO do more," he said.
Del Buey said the decision was made on the ground by the UN force commander and troops were holding fire to avoid triggering a battle.
"There has to be a value judgment made," he said. "Do you open fire and put civilians at risk, or do you hold your fire, continue your patrols, observe what's happening and remind the M23 that they are subject to international humanitarian and human rights law?"
Neighbouring Rwanda is accused of equipping the rebels with sophisticated arms, including night vision goggles and 120-mm mortars. Evidence is mounting of the role played by the neighbouring country and on Friday, the UN Group of Experts is expected to release its final report, detailing the role Rwanda has played in the recruitment, financing and arming of the new rebel movement.
On Tuesday, Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said Rwandan soldiers had crossed into Goma —a claim not independently verified — hiking over footpaths across a volcano that looms between the two countries.
"Goma is in the process of being occupied by Rwanda," said Mende, speaking from Congo's distant capital of Kinshasa.
"They have occupied the airport and they are shooting inside the town. Our army is trying to riposte, but this poses an enormous problem for them — this is an urban centre where hundreds of thousands of people live."
Broken peace deal
Although M23 is tapping into long-held grievances regarding the marginalization of Tutsis in Congo, analysts and country experts say the real reason for the rebellion is over control of Congo's vast mineral riches, a good chunk of which is concentrated in North Kivu province, where Goma is located, and South Kivu contain one of the highest concentrations of tin, tantalum and tungsten mines, minerals that are used in computers, mobile phones and digital cameras.