DR Congo: M23 rebels reject claims of mass killing
GOMA, DR Congo — The M23 rebel group fighting the army in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday rejected claims of mass casualties and said it had killed nine soliders.
Violence flared this week in the country’s restive east, days after the UN and US imposed sanctions on the group’s leader.
Regional governor Julien Paluku said on Thursday that 113 rebels wearing Rwandan army uniform died in the clashes between the rebels and FARDC government troops.
But M23’s military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama rejected the governor’s toll
“We killed nine FARDC troops and wounded about 100,” he told AFP.
“We have no fatalities, only two wounded,” he added.
Kazarama said his forces had captured two fighters — one of them belonging to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — in the clashes that lasted all day Thursday.
An army spokesman said last month that the two rebel groups active in the country’s east, the M23 and the FDLR, had formed an alliance.
Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Hamuli said the M23, a rebel group formed by army mutineers who have been battling with their former colleagues and sowing terror in the east, had teamed up with the FDLR in a bid to gain more territory in the region.
Kazarama has denied this.
The government in Kinshasa and the M23 accuse each other of cooperating with the ethnic Hutu FDLR. Some of its members are wanted by Rwanda for their suspected role in the 1994 genocide, which killed 800,000 people — mostly Tutsis.
The government forces and the M23 said early Friday they were holding on to their positions and that there was no fighting north of Goma, resource-rich North Kivu’s capital.
But refugees kept arriving in Goma in spite of a return to calm, and also at the Kanyarucinya camp, 10 kilometres (six miles) from Goma.
The M23 spokesman also said his group had “retaken nine positions, one of them strategically important, around Nyiragongo”, near Goma, but the army denied this.
“We have not seen any enemy movement on our positions or those surrounding Goma,” a senior officer who took part in the fighting told AFP.
“The enemy was forced to return to its old positions after yesterday’s battle.”
“If they were in any strategic positions around Goma they would have caused panic already but everything is normal and calm.”
The M23 was formed in April by former fighters in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the army under a 2009 peace deal whose terms the mutineers claim were never fully implemented.
The United Nations has accused the Rwandan military of backing the M23, a charge Kigali denies.
Thursday’s fighting came a day after the government in Kinshasa dismissed as inadequate UN and US sanctions against Sultani Makenga and said neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda should also be targeted.
Washington announced sanctions against Makenga on Tuesday, freezing his assets in US jurisdiction and forbidding any US citizen from doing business with him, accusing him of attacks on civilians and the recruitment of child soldiers.
The United Nations also ordered an assets freeze and a travel ban against the 38-year-old.