DAKAR – The accounts are haunting. Kidnapping, torture, rape. Scores of civilians, including women and children, have been killed by M23 rebels in eastern Congo, according to a UN report
In addition, the M23 rebels have forced children to become soldiers, according to a panel of UN experts. The 21-page report, based on interviews with more than 230 sources and visits to the Rutshuru area in North Kivu province in Congo, where the M23 has captured areas, is expected to be released this week.
The conflict has simmered for decades in eastern Congo, where more than 120 armed groups in the region are fighting, most for land and control of mines containing valuable minerals, while some groups try to protect their communities.
The already volatile situation deteriorated significantly this year as the M23 reemerged after being largely dormant for nearly a decade.
The M23 first came to prominence 10 years ago when its fighters captured Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo that borders Rwanda. The group derives its name from a peace agreement signed on March 23, 2009, which provides for the integration of the rebels into the Congo army. The M23 accuse the government of not implementing the agreement.
In late 2021, the reactivated M23 began killing civilians and capturing tracts of land. According to the report, M23 militants raped and molested women trying to farm family fields in rebel-held areas. The rebels accused civilians of spying for the Congolese army, the report said. They were often imprisoned and some beaten to death, it said.
Populations living under M23 are not only victims of abuse, but they are also forced to pay taxes, the panel said. At the Bunagana border crossing with Uganda, rebels made an average of $27,000 a month by making people transporting goods pay to enter and exit the country, the UN said. Two locals who live under M23 and chose not to be named for fear for their safety told The Associated Press they were forced to bring sacks of beans to the rebels, paid $5 if they wanted access to their farms and Taking back roads if they wanted to leave the village for fear of retaliation.
The M23 has not responded to questions about the allegations, but previously dismissed them as propaganda.
The rebel violence is part of a broader escalation of the crisis in eastern Congo, with fighting by armed groups in North Kivu and Ituri provinces intensifying and widening, the report said.
“The security and humanitarian situation in North Kivu and Ituri provinces has deteriorated significantly, despite the continuous enforcement of the state of siege over the past 18 months,” and despite military operations by the Congolese Armed Forces, the Ugandan military and the UN Mission in the Congo, according to the report.
Adding to the difficult situation in eastern Congo, attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces – believed to be linked to the Islamic State group – are increasing, the report said. A nearly year-long joint operation by the armies of Uganda and Congo “has not yet yielded the expected results of defeating or significantly weakening the ADF,” it said. Since April, ADF attacks have killed at least 370 civilians and kidnapped several hundred others, including a significant number of children, it said. The group also expanded its area of operations to Goma and neighboring Ituri Province.
The fighting is exacerbating the terrible humanitarian crisis in eastern Congo. Almost 6 million people are internally displaced in Congo, more than 450,000 in North Kivu province, since clashes escalated in February. Hundreds of thousands face extreme food insecurity and disease is spreading, aid organizations say. Cholera cases are on the rise in Nyiragongo, a region home to many displaced people in North Kivu. More than 970 cases of the disease have been detected in recent weeks, Save The Children said.
Efforts to stem the violence have met with little success.
A new regional force stationed in eastern Congo is being pushed back by local residents who say they don’t want more armed groups in the area. Tensions are also rising with Congo’s neighbor Rwanda, accused of supporting the M23 rebels. Findings endorsed by the UN.
Earlier this week, the M23 announced it was withdrawing from Kibumba, a town near Goma it held for several weeks, as part of an agreement reached at a summit in Angola last month, Lawrence Kanyuka said. the political spokesman for the M23, in a statement. However, residents of Kibumba said the rebels are still there and are still attacking civilians.
“My neighbor was flogged for refusing to let M23 slaughter his goat,” said Faustin Kamete, a Kibumba resident. “They lied to the international community about their withdrawal,” he said.
Associated Press journalist Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro contributed from Beni, Congo.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/12/27/abduction-torture-rape-conflict-in-congo-worsens-says-un/ Congo intensifies, UN says