The M23 rebels entered Goma, a city of around 400,000 people, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and claimed control of it, according to reports.
Several hundred fighters with the rebel group, which is believed by the United Nations to be backed by Rwanda and is headed by alleged war criminal Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda, paraded around the city on Tuesday, reported Reuters.
“There is no army left in the town, not a soul… Once they were in the town what could we do? It could have been very serious for the population,” a senior U.N. source told the news agency.
The advance of the rebels prompted thousands of residents and people living at a nearby refugee camp to flee.
A journalist who is traveling with the rebels said they walked down Goma’s main street without firing a shot, reported The New York Times. The Congolese army and U.N. peacekeepers fled the city as the rebels advanced.
A store owner in Goma also said that “the airport has just fallen.”
Amnesty International head Salil Shetty said that with the M23 taking over, it “places thousands more civilians at risk.”
“All parties to the conflict must protect civilians from attack and respect international humanitarian law, as hostilities get closer to densely populated areas,” Shetty said.
Amnesty, along with the U.N. and other rights groups, have said that fighters with the M23 have committed a number of human rights abuses since it launched its attack on Congolese troops earlier this year.
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