Congolese president raises death toll in suspected M23 massacre in Rutshuru to more than a hundred

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Archive – The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Felix Tshisekedi – Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency / DPA

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Felix Tshisekedi, has raised to more than a hundred the number of civilians killed last Tuesday in an alleged massacre committed by the rebel group March 23 Movement (M23) in the town of Kisishe, Rutshuru territory, in the east of the country, for which he has declared three days of mourning.

In the last hours, local sources have raised the death toll to 122, according to Radio Okapi, including at least 64 people who were hiding in a church.

«The President of the Republic also sent a message of compassion and solidarity to the families and communities directly affected by this tragedy. These three days of national mourning will culminate on Monday, December 5, 2022, with a charity event in the form of a telethon,» according to the presidential communiqué picked up by the Actualité news portal.

At the same Council of Ministers, the President «asked the Ministry of Justice to open without delay an internal investigation and at the same time to work in favor of an international investigation to shed light on this war crime».

The French Embassy in the DRC declared its «grave concern» about reports of massacres «allegedly committed by the M23 against civilians in Kishishe and which may constitute war crimes,» it said on its Twitter account.

«These acts must not go unpunished and M23 must withdraw without delay,» it added.

For his part, M23 spokesman Lawrence Kanyuka previously indicated in a statement that Kinshasa’s accusations are «unfounded» and has stressed that «the M23 has never attacked civilian populations.» «The M23 warns of the ongoing genocide in Masisi and asks the international community and the United Nations to investigate thoroughly,» he stressed.

In this regard, he warned of «a campaign, especially by those who do not want peace, to damage the image (of the M23) and its good relationship with the civilian population under its control, and therefore calls for a prompt independent investigation».

«The M23 reiterates its commitment to the initiation of a direct dialogue with the Government of DRC and believes that it is the only way to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern DRC,» Kanyuka concluded in his statement, published by the group through its account on the social network Twitter.

In the framework of a summit in the Angolan capital, Luanda, to advance the normalization of diplomatic relations, DRC and Rwanda agreed on a ceasefire last Friday, as well as a withdrawal of M23 from the recently conquered areas in the province.

The new round of talks in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which kicked off on Monday, comes after the rebel group said it accepts in principle the agreement for a cessation of hostilities in North Kivu province, although it warned that it reserves any right to respond to any attack.