Clamour for inquiry after 'massacre' claim in DR Congo

M23 rebel leader General Sultani Makenga. FILE PHOTO/ AFP

What you need to know:

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

The UN's peacekeeping mission in DR Congo led calls Friday for an investigation after the government said 50 villagers had been massacred by a notorious armed group in the country's troubled east.

On Thursday, the government accused the M23 militia -- with whom it is locked in a months-long conflict -- of slaughtering 50 people at Kisheshe, a village some 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of the city of Goma. 

The M23 hit back, saying allegations were "baseless" and denying that it targeted any civilians.

The UN mission MONUSCO on Friday condemned "these horrifying acts" and said its Joint Human Rights Office was standing by to help any probe.

Denis Mukwege, the Congolese doctor who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for helping rape victims in the strife-torn region, also expressed his horror at reports of "mass slaughter, missing people and forced recruitment of children" into conflict.

Representatives for the United States and European Union said the killings were potential war crimes, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) said UN troops should be deployed to protect survivors.

The accusation was made in a statement by the armed forces, who said the massacre had occurred on Tuesday as the M23 was fighting with a local militia.

AFP on Wednesday spoke to people in the area who said there had been a large but unknown number of deaths.

They said the rebels had accused inhabitants of being militia members who had dressed up in civilian clothes to mount a furtive attack.

"There was blind retaliation," government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Friday, citing "a doctor who says there were 120 dead."

He said arrangements were being made with MONUSCO "to go to the area and verify" what had happened.

The army, in its accusations on Thursday, also said the M23 had breached a ceasefire with government troops, a charge that the group also denied.

 Truce agreement 
The March 23 movement, or M23, is a predominantly Congolese 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 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 Luanda unlocked a truce agreement on November 23.

The ceasefire was scheduled to take effect on November 25. It should also have been followed by a pullout by the M23 two days later from territory it had seized, but this did not happen.

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