The rebel group M23 has said it is ready to march on the capital city of Kinshasa and take control of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, having captured Goma, the main city in the east of the country.
At a gathering of civilians, police and government soldiers at the Stade du Volcan football stadium in Goma, thousands of Congolese troops defected to the rebels, as the M23 military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vianney Kazarama issued a message to the president, Joseph Kabila.
Congolese soldiers surrender to M23 rebels
Donald Trump's effective debate tactics
Clinton and Trump prepare to face off
Election expert: Trump is headed for a win
The Ivory Debate: should the ban be lifted?
Arnold Palmer dies aged 87
Malnutrition grows in war-ravaged Yemen
US, Russia trade blows over Syria
Congolese soldiers surrender to M23 rebels
Government soldiers and police in the Democratic Republic of Congo surrender and hand over their weapons to M23 rebels.
"People say we have balkanised the Congo, but that is wrong. We will go to Kinshasa, we will unite the country," he announced. "The DRC is indivisible. Nobody will divide the country."
The crowd cheered its approval. Later, Lieutenant-Colonel Kazarama told journalists: "We will go to Kinshasa if the people there invite us. We obey the will of the people. If they want Kabila [to resign], we will support the people."
The UN said the rebels were carrying out ‘‘summary executions’’ of local leaders as they took new territory. The UN envoy to DR Congo, Roger Meece, said: ‘‘We have received numerous reports of targeted summary executions of those who stand in their way, including government and traditional leaders who resist or fail to cooperate with an M23 administrative structure."
Mr Meece said the insurgents had also been accused of recruiting child soldiers and rapes of women and children.
M23 seized control of Goma in the early afternoon on Tuesday after a brief fight with government troops in the centre of the city. The Congolese army soldiers – poorly supplied, underfed and rarely paid – fled the city without putting up any resistance of note. On Wednesday the rebels began the process of recruiting army deserters and government police and securing a city that was left completely lawless as government agents fled alongside troops.
In an effort to prevent an escalation of the rebellion in the central African country, Mr Kabila flew to Kampala, Uganda, to meet the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, and the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. Rwanda and Uganda are accused of supporting the rebels.
The UN Security Council held urgent new talks on the growing crisis as the United Nations finally published a widely-leaked report which said Rwanda had given heavy backing to the rebels.
Mr Kabila's troubled government remains unwilling to negotiate with the M23. "We're no longer going to respond to these people who work for someone else," the government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters, referring to the allegations of Rwandan and Ugandan support for M23. "We're negotiating with those who they work for . . . Even if Rwanda takes Kinshasa, we'll continue to fight."
At the football stadium, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Mankesi Ndamba was one of the highest-ranking government troops who had come to join M23. "The soldiers are hiding, afraid to come out," he said. "But I will address them, and they will join M23 as I am doing."
By the end of the morning he said he had compiled a list of 2100 soldiers who would defect to the rebels, alongside 700 police.
People say we have balkanised the Congo, but that is wrong. We will go to Kinshasa, we will unite the country.Lieutenant-Colonel Vianney Kazarama
Lieutenant-Colonel Kazarama also confirmed that M23 troops were moving along the road west out of Goma, following the route taken by the deserting army soldiers. He said the rebels had taken control of Sake, a town some 30 kilometres away, and that their intention was to head to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province. The capture of Sake was confirmed by a UN source.
"The priority is to restore the security of the population of Goma," said M23's political leader, Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga. "The people who worked in the provincial government administration will continue to do their work, though eventually we will make political appointments. It is not yet time for that, though."
Lieutenant-Colonel Kazarama strenuously denied claims that the rebels were linked to Rwanda, insisting M23 was a Congolese affair. He offered a pardon to government soldiers and police and urged them to return to Goma and join the rebels who were working, he said, in the interests of the people.
But Human Rights Watch said M23 had committed "widespread war crimes in eastern [DRC]" and that "the United States government should publicly support sanctions against Rwandan officials backing the armed group". There are reports that local human rights defenders have fled Goma, fearing for their security under M23 rule.
There is no credible challenge to M23 control in Goma, and the rebels have taken towns to the west of the city unopposed as they march towards Bukavu. The government troops are disorganised and demoralised; for now there seems to no way for Mr Kabila's administration to prevent the onward march of the rebels.
Guardian News & Media; Agence France-Presse