DRC announces three days of national mourning after 100 civilians massacred

M23 rebel fighters walk in the town of Karuba, 62 km west of Goma, capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 28, 2012. (Image: Reuters)

Three days of national mourning began in the DR Congo today (Saturday) after the alleged massacre of civilians in the country’s east, with the government now giving a death toll of “more than 100.”

On Thursday, the government accused the M23 militia — with whom it is locked in a months-long conflict — of slaughtering 50 people at Kishishe, a village around 70 kilometers north of the city of Goma.

The M23 hit back, saying the allegations were “baseless” and denying that it targeted civilians.

At a council of ministers meeting yesterday (Friday), the DRC’s president Felix Tshisekedi “condemned in the strongest terms the massacre of more than 100 compatriots in Kishishe,” government spokesman, Mr Patrick Muyaya said.

He said Mr Tshisekedi had “instructed the government to declare three days of national mourning,” adding that flags would be flown at half-mast throughout the country.

The period of mourning will end on Monday with a televised fundraising event to support victims, Mr Muyaya said.

Since reports of the massacre emerged, calls for an independent investigation have been mounting.

The president “asked the minister of justice to open an internal investigation without delay and at the same time to work for an international investigation to shed light on this war crime”, Mr Muyaya said.

The March 23 movement, or M23, is a predominantly Rwandese Tutsi rebel group that was dormant for years.

It took up arms again in November last year and seized the town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda in June.

After a brief period of calm, it went on the offensive again in October, greatly extending the territory under its control and advancing towards 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 denies the charge.

Brigadier General Sylvain Ekenge accused M23 rebels and their Rwandan backers of targeting Congolese civilians.

At a press conference this week in Kinshasa, Mr Ekenge said Rwandan defence forces and their M23 accomplices are killing innocent civilians in the territory of Rutshuru, including the recent killings of 50 Congolese citizens.

He said DRC armed forces are obliged to respond to all attacks and will do everything possible to protect the Congolese people.

Rwanda has denied supporting M23 rebels.

The general also accused the rebels of abduction and forced recruitment of youth into their ranks.

M23 rejected the allegations and accused the Congolese army of breaking a week-long truce.

In an interview with VOA Friday, M23 spokesman, Mr Lawrence Kanyuka, accused the Congolese national army of attacking their positions and called for dialogue.

“The DRC government started a war last night, attack(ed) the position of Kishishi, which means that they breach(ed), actually, the cease-fire (that) was actually put in place on the 25th,” Mr Kanyuka said.

DRC General Ekenge said Congolese forces had upheld the truce.

The cease-fire was agreed upon between DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame at a November 23 summit in Angola.

The M23 rebels were not part of the deal but there was no fighting reported between the two sides until Thursday’s clashes.

The M23 rebels are ethnic Tutsis of Rwanda who say the government broke a deal to integrate them into the army.

They began seizing territory in November 2021 and in October moved toward the city of Goma.

The East African Community has deployed hundreds of troops from Burundi and Kenya as part of a regional force to quell the violence.

Nairobi this week also hosted peace talks with regional leaders and some rebel groups.

M23 representatives were not invited to the talks because Kinshasa said it will not engage with them until they give up occupied territory.

In New York, the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson, Mr Stephane Dujarric, said MONUSCO – the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC had received reports of fighting in the area between M23 rebels and Mai-Mai militias.

Source: VOA

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