At least 19 civilians were killed in an attack on the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) town of Mweso late on Thursday, January 25th. According to the DRC’s Lt. Col. Guillaume N’djike Kaiko, the attack killed at least 19 and injured at least 27 more.
The government has blamed the M23 rebel group for the attack, which they say was carried out when the group “indiscriminately dropped mortar bombs” on the town. Following the initial attack, the civilians of Mweso reportedly took shelter in the Mweso General Hospital.
The attack comes as fighting between the M23 and the DRC’s military has reignited, after the DRC began a new attack upon the rebel group with the support of troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The Rebel’s Denial
The M23 has released a series of statements rejecting the accusations of blame for the attack, and has instead pointed the finger at the government, stating that the “Kinshasa regime apocalyptic attacks” were to blame for the civilian deaths.
Le régime de Kinshasa, à travers le porte parole militaire du Nord kivu, s'est précipité à publier un communiqué laconique pour renier le carnage qu'il vient de perpétrer contre des populations de Mweso. Les populations victimes sont témoins oculaires des auteurs de ces crimes… pic.twitter.com/bWrDk7h40t
— Lawrence KANYUKA (@LawrenceKanyuka) January 26, 2024
They accuse the DRC of bombing the town and killing 20 civilians, and injuring 17 more. The rebels state that they have been protecting the town, and that since the “Kinshasa regime coalition’s forces have lamentably failed on the battlefield, being unable to shake M23 defence lines, the said coalition’s forces have changed their tactics and targeted civilian populations instead”.
When civilian deaths arise in the conflict between the DRC and the M23, the two sides are quick to accuse each other of responsibility.
Earlier today, January 27th, the M23 announced the DRC’s military was attacking several of their positions in Karuba, Kingi, Karenga, Negenero, Mbuhi, and surrounding areas.
UPDATE 7h00, le 27 janvier 2024
Nous informons le public ce qui suit :
1. Les forces coalisées du régime de Kinshasa, notamment les FARDC, FDLR, MERCENAIRES, MILICES, les FORCES DE DÉFENSE NATIONALE DU BURUNDI et les FORCES de la SADC, en venant tuer les civils ce matin comme…
— Lawrence KANYUKA (@LawrenceKanyuka) January 27, 2024
The past two weeks have been marked with significant clashes between the DRC/SADC, and the M23 after the SADC began combat operations together on January 16th. The SADC is the latest intervention force in a series of different forces which have entered the DRC in an effort to quell the violence which plagues the east, where over 120 different armed groups operate.
Putting an end to the instability in the eastern DRC was one of the promises which DRC President Felix Tshisekedi was elected upon in 2019, and re-elected upon in December of 2023.
While violence has only escalated in recent years, the SADC has deployed in the DRC with the promise to fight against the M23 rebels and other armed groups in the DRC’s North and South Kivu provinces.