A United Nations (UN) investigation has found that at least 131 civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo died in a November attack by the M23 rebel group.
The UN report said the massacre took place in two villages – Kishishe and Bambo – in the Rutsuhuru district of the eastern North Kivu province.
Investigators said the attack appeared to be a reprisal for a current government offensive on the rebels. M23 denied the massacre, blaming “stray bullets” for just eight deaths.
But the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (UNMONUSCO) peacekeeping mission in the country said 102 men, 17 women and 12 children were “arbitrarily executed” by the rebel group “as part of reprisals against the civilian population”. At least 22 women and five girls were also raped, the report said.
“This violence was carried out as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings and looting against two villages in the Rutshuru territory as reprisals for the clashes between the M23” and other armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the statement said, adding that the true number of killed could be even higher.
It also said that M23 fighters then buried the bodies of the victims in “what may be an attempt to destroy evidence”.
The government had initially said that over 300 civilians were killed in the attack, which took place between November 29 and 30. But its spokesman, Patrick Muyaya, accepted on Monday that it was difficult to arrive at a firm figure as the region was under M23 occupation.
Congolese authorities have described the killings as war crimes and called for deeper investigation, while protests have been organised in the capital, Kinshasa, and Goma, the main city in North Kivu.
Investigators said they couldn’t access the villages where the massacre occurred, but they interviewed 52 victims and direct witnesses who fled the attack in the town of Rwindi about 20km (12 miles) away.
Witnesses told the UN’s team that members of the rebel group broke down doors, shot civilians, looted property and burned villagers out of their homes. -BBC