Congo’s government substantially boosted the death toll from a massacre claimed on M23 rebels last week, announcing on Monday that 270 people were murdered in an assault that violated a shaky cease-fire deal.
The leader of M23 contested the statistic and accused the Congolese government of creating a distraction from other crimes perpetrated by government forces and their collaborators in the area.
Monday, government spokesperson Patrick Muyaya said that an official investigation will be launched into the events in Kishishe, a town situated around 70 kilometres (43 miles) from the regional capital of Goma.
Muyaya stated that the country’s minister of justice travelled to The Hague, Netherlands, and presented the subject to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court “so that he may examine the atrocities in Kishishe.“
In Goma, representatives of social movements and local citizens gathered in remembrance of the conflict’s casualties.
Carrying banners that read “Kishishe is not a butchery” and sang “Kishishe oh, Kishishe oh,” they asked that the world community intervene to halt the violence between the M23 rebel group, Rwanda, and Congo, which has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands.
“”We say enough is enough, we’re weary of it, we don’t want violence because we are here for peace, and the Congolese are seeking peace,” said Amani Jordan, who was standing next to a Congolese flag surrounded by hundreds of candles.
“Nadia Nyamushiya, who is also participating in the vigil, said, “We are here because the M23 terrorists murdered our countrymen.”
As young Congolese, we decided to ourselves, ‘Let’s gather with our friends and grieve for our people.’
The Congolese government first blamed 50 deaths in Kishishe on the M23 insurgents and Rwandan defence troops.
The Rwandan government has denied several times that it supports the M23 rebels.
Muyaya claimed the information came from local civil society organisations, but there was no instant confirmation of the official number or the revised death toll of at least 270 as a result of instability in the region.
However, M23 chairman Bertrand Bisimwa said that the death toll statistic was exaggerated by a tribal militia commander and that only eight people were killed by stray gunshots during skirmishes in Kishishe on Tuesday.
At a conference held in Angola last month, the leaders there warned that if M23 did not observe the cease-fire and cede control of the cities it occupied, an East African regional army would compel them to do so.
A group of around 900 Kenyan soldiers has already been dispatched to eastern Congo as part of the regional force agreed upon in June, and South Sudan has said that it would send 750 people as well.
Eventually, the force will comprise two battalions from Uganda and two battalions from Burundi.
M23 was excluded from the Angolan negotiations, although its commanders said they would comply.
As the Third Inter-Congolese Dialogue continues in Nairobi, leaders of the East African Community have been meeting for days to find a solution to the DRC conflict.
The M23 came to prominence a decade ago when its militants took Goma, the main city in the east of the Congo near the Rwandan border.
Many M23 combatants were incorporated into the national military after a peace accord.
The organisation reemerged little over a year ago, claiming that the government had failed to fulfil its obligations under the peace agreement.
By June, M23 had taken control of the important town of Bunagana near the Ugandan border.
Later, it seized control of two further large cities: Rutshuru and Kiwanja.
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