The death toll from last week’s rebel attack in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has reached 272, according to authorities.
Last Tuesday, the government said an attack attributed to M23 rebels left about 100 civilians killed in Kishishe in the restive North Kivu province.
“So far the number of people who died has reached 272, including 17 children. This toll has climbed compared to that of last week following further assessment carried out by local communities,” Industry Minister Julien Paluku told reporters in the capital Kinshasa on Monday, speaking alongside government spokesman Patrick Muyaya.
The government has opened investigations but the Congolese justice minister is expected in The Hague on Tuesday to seek an investigation by the International Criminal Court that would shed more light on the massacres, according to Muyaya.
The M23 rebels, who occupy wide areas in North Kivu’s Rutshuru territory, where Kishishe is located, have denied responsibility for the killings.
Congo accuses neighboring Rwanda of backing M23 rebels, a charge Rwanda has persistently denied.
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has said his Congolese counterpart wants to exploit a security crisis in the east to delay elections slated for next December.
But Congolese leader Felix Tshisekedi on Sunday blasted the Rwandan government and Kagame as an “enemy of his country.”
Worsening humanitarian crisis
A cease-fire agreed on by African leaders at an Angolan mini-summit on Nov. 23 was breached after fighting erupted between M23 fighters and government troops on Dec. 1.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday he held a phone conversation with Kagame in which he made clear that “any external support to non-state armed groups in the DRC must end, including Rwanda’s assistance to M23.”
But, commenting on the phone call, Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said “the differences in understanding of the issue of the DR Congo crisis remain.”
“The wrong and misguided approach of the international community continues to exacerbate the problem,” said Biruta. “M23 should not be equated to Rwanda. It is not Rwanda’s problem to solve.”
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Congo.
Congolese children are facing growing danger in the east of the country, as armed conflicts, cholera, and measles outbreaks spread, Marie-Pierre Poirier, the UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, said Monday.
The fighting has displaced at least 1.5 million people in 2022 in the eastern region, more than half of them children, according to UNICEF.
Inter-Congolese dialogue between the Congolese government and armed groups operating in eastern Congo ended this week in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. But the M23 rebels were excluded from the talks by the Congolese government until the rebels withdraw from the areas they occupy.
Source: Anadolu Agency