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131 civilians killed by M23 rebels in eastern Congo, says UN


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BENI, Congo – Arbitrarily shooting, stabbing, raping and kidnapping people, rebels in eastern Congo have killed at least 131 people and causing “unspeakable violence” against civilians, says a new United Nations report.

The M23 rebel group killed men, women and children in two villages in the Congolese Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province last month, according to a preliminary investigation by the United Nations Office for Human Rights in Congo and MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country.

The investigation, based on interviews with 52 victims and witnesses, details a brutal campaign of murder, rape, kidnapping and looting in the villages of Kishishe and Bambo, from 29 to 30. November of the Rebels. The report said at least 60 people were kidnapped, 22 women and girls raped, property looted and homes burned.

The killings are among the latest clashes between rebels and a coalition of armed militias protecting civilians, which have been fighting each other in eastern Congo for more than a year, since when the M23 rebels emerged after nearly a decade of inactivity.

The M23 emerged 10 years ago when its warriors seized Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo, located along the border with Rwanda. The group takes its name from a peace agreement dated March 23, 2009, which it accuses the government of failing to implement.

The UN report said that after the attacks, insurgents prevented survivors from leaving looted villages and burying bodies. Due to security restrictions, investigators were unable to access the villages and instead spoke to survivors and witnesses at a United Nations peacekeeping base in a remote area. nearby towns where people have sought refuge.

The report comes amid a flurry of tit-for-tat allegations by both groups accusing each other of atrocities. While a ceasefire was agreed last month, analysts say new attacks could lead to further violence.

“Despite recent statements by M23 demonstrating a willingness to withdraw, attacks by this group against civilians are likely to indicate an escalation of the conflict and potentially lead to more violence. between the M23 and other armed groups, some of which have also violated. Daniel Levine-Spound, a Congolese-focused researcher at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, said civilians will pay the price.

M23 did not immediately respond to the findings of the UN investigation but had previously denied similar allegations like propaganda. It said it was committed to a ceasefire agreed to in Angola in November. Speaking to the Associated Press by phone, Lawrence Kanyuka, the rebel group’s political spokesman, confirmed that the M23 have the right to defend themselves if attacked.

However, the group has gained ground in recent weeks, inching closer to Goma and expanding into Masisi, increasing territory that makes it hard to believe the rebels are acting only in self-defence.

“When you look at the amount of terrain they’ve won since October, it’s hard to believe the argument that they’re just defending themselves,” said Eliora Henzler, coordinator of Kivu Security Tracker. “The problem is we still don’t know what they want. It’s hard to understand what they consider an end game.

The violence is exacerbating a serious humanitarian crisis in eastern Congo. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, living in squalid conditions in damp schools, churches and stadiums. Locals want the Congolese government to do more to stop the violence, but say they would not support negotiating with a brutal group like the M23.

“I want our government to start fighting and destroying the M23 rebels and refuse any negotiations with these terrorists,” said Stephanie Mbafumoja, a resident of the nearby town of Beni. “Why negotiate with them? Just destroying them is enough for peace to return to the Congo.”

Mednick reports from Dakar, Senegal

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