The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army on Thursday accused M23 rebels of killing 50 civilians and breaching a five-day-old truce in the country’s restive east.
The M23 rebel group vehemently denied the alleged massacre of civilians that took place late Thursday night. In a statement released to the public, the group categorically denied any involvement in the grisly incident. “We had absolutely nothing to do with it,” the statement read. “Any suggestion that we were responsible is a complete fabrication.”
The M23 rebel group has been engaged in a prolonged conflict with the Congolese government, and accusations of atrocities have been levelled against both sides. Thursday’s massacre, if it is indeed attributable to the M23, would represent a serious escalation of the conflict.
The ceasefire took effect in North Kivu province at the weekend following a summit between DRC and its neighbour Rwanda. The agreement was reached after four days of talks in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. It is hoped that the ceasefire will help to end the cycle of violence that has plagued the region for many years.
The agreement was also supposed to include a rebel pull-out from captured territory, but that has yet to take place. This has caused some tension between the two sides, as the government feels that the rebels are not living up to their end of the bargain. However, the rebels say that they will not leave until they feel that their safety is guaranteed.
General Sylvain Ekenge said the M23 group was “carrying out massacres… the most recent of which is that of 50 Congolese civilians, heinously murdered on Tuesday in Kishishe,” a village some 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of the eastern city of Goma.
This is just the latest in a long string of atrocities committed by the M23. They have been terrorizing the people of the Congo for years, and it seems like they are only getting more violent.
The Congo is a country that is already plagued by violence, and the M23 is making it even worse. They need to be stopped before they kill any more innocent people.
Ekenge said that the M23 had attacked government positions, despite a truce that both sides had agreed to. He claimed that the Congolese forces had been “scrupulously observing” the truce, and accused the M23 of being the aggressors.
The M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo has denied accusations that it carried out a massacre of civilians in the town of Kishishe. In a statement, the group described the accusations as “baseless allegations” and insisted that “it has never targeted civilian populations”. The M23 added that it is committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the DRC and called on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.
Earlier reports had indicated that fighting had resumed in Kirima, situated about 10 kilometres from the town of Kibirizi. However, sources have now confirmed that the fighting is still ongoing in the region. This is a developing story, and more information will be made available as it becomes available.
“Paul Lutibahwa, the head of civil society groups for the Bambo region, said that the rebels had crossed the bridge and were heading for the town of Kibirizi. He said that there was a great deal of panic among the residents of the town”.
According to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the M23 rebel group has breached the ceasefire in eastern Congo and is continuing to loot and fight. The official accused the M23 of violating the terms of the ceasefire and called on them to end their violence.
A DRC army officer, who also asked not to be identified, said that the fighting is heavy and that they are using heavy artillery.
The M23’s military spokesman, Willy Ngoma, contacted by AFP, confirmed that there was fighting with the army. He said that the fighting started early in the morning and that it is still ongoing.
The M23 rebel group is a predominantly Congolese Tutsi group that was inactive for many years. However, the group took up arms again in November of last year and managed to seize the town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda in June. While the group has been relatively quiet since then, the people of Congo remain on edge, as the M23 rebel group has shown that it is capable of causing significant trouble in the country.
After a brief period of calm, it went on the offensive again in October, greatly extending the territory under its control and advancing towards the city of Goma.
Kinshasa accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of providing M23 with support, something that UN experts and US officials have also pointed to in recent months.
Kigali disputes the charge, and in turn accuses Kinshasa of collusion with the FDLR — a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group established in the DRC after the genocide of the Tutsi community in 1994 in Rwanda.
Talks between the two countries in the Angolan capital of Luanda unlocked a truce agreement on November 23.
The ceasefire was scheduled to take effect on Friday, November 25 at 1600 GMT and be followed by a pull-out by the M23 two days later.
A parallel initiative has been undertaken by the East African Community (EAC), a seven-nation regional bloc that includes Rwanda.
It has decided to deploy a regional force to help stabilise the region, for which Kenyan troops are already deployed in Goma, and on November 28 launched peace talks, to which the M23 were not invited.
Until Thursday’s violence, there had been no fighting between government forces and the M23, although the rebels had clashed with local militia, especially in the Bambo area, where civilian casualties were reported.
The Vatican, meanwhile, announced that Pope Francis would visit the DRC and South Sudan from January 31 to February 5.
His trip to the two violence-plagued countries had been planned for July this year but was postponed because of treatment for knee pain.
His stay in the DRC from January 31 to February 3 will take place in Kinshasa and no longer include Goma.
The site that had been chosen for a papal mass, located 15 kilometres (nine miles) north of Goma, is currently occupied by a forward position of the armed forces.
Scores of armed groups roam eastern DRC, making it one of Africa’s most violent regions.
Many are legacies of two wars before the turn of the century that sucked in countries from the region and left millions dead.
Demonstrators protesting perceived international indifference to the crisis rallied in Goma early Thursday. Another march staged by the Catholic church took place in Bukavu, in neighbouring South Kivu province.
Agencies contributed to this report