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Vigil in DRC as government raises death toll from violence

Kinshasa last week accused the M23 rebels of killing hundreds of civilians in Kishishe, a village north of Goma. On Monday, the government spokesman put the death toll at 270   -  
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

Congo's government dramatically increased the death toll from a massacre last week they blamed on M23 rebels, saying Monday that 270 people had been killed in an attack that broke a fragile cease-fire agreement.

M23's chairman challenged the figure and accused Congo's government of creating a diversion from other atrocities in the region that he says have been committed by government soldiers and their allies.

Government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said Monday that the government was opening an official inquiry into what happened in Kishishe, a village located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the regional capital of Goma.

He said the country's justice minister went to The Hague in the Netherlands and referred the matter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court "so that he can investigate the massacres in Kishishe," Muyaya added.

In Goma, members of social movements and residents of the city gathered in a vigil to remember the victims of the conflict.

Carrying banners reading “Kishishe is not a butchery” and singing “Kishishe oh, Kishishe oh” they also demanded attention of the international community to put an end to the conflict between the M23 rebel group, Rwanda and Congo, that has killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands.

"We say enough is enough, we are tired of it, we don't want war because we are here for peace, the Congolese are looking for peace,” said Amani Jordan standing next to a Congolese flag with dozens of candles around.

"We are here because our compatriots have been killed by the M23 terrorists,” said Nadia Nyamushiya also participating in the vigil.

“As young Congolese, we have said to ourselves: get together to share with our friends and mourn our own (people).”

The Congolese government initially accused the M23 rebels and Rwandan defence forces of killing 50 people in Kishishe.

Rwanda's government has repeatedly denied backing the M23 rebels.

There was no immediate corroboration of that government figure or the new toll of at least 270 dead due to insecurity in the area but Muyaya said the information had come from local civil society groups.

However, M23 chairman Bertrand Bisimwa said the death toll figure had been inflated by a tribal militia leader and that only eight people had been killed by stray bullets during the clashes last Tuesday in Kishishe.

Last month at a summit in Angola, the leaders attending it had warned that if M23 did not respect the cease-fire and relinquish control of the towns it held, an East African regional force would make them do so.

A contingent of more than 900 Kenyan troops already has deployed to eastern Congo as part of the regional force agreed to in June and South Sudan has said it is sending 750 personnel too.

The force will eventually include two battalions from Uganda and two from Burundi as well.

M23 was not included in the talks in Angola but its leaders had said they would abide by it.

Meanwhile in Nairobi, the Third Inter-Congolese Dialogue continues, leaders of the East African Community have been gathering for several days trying to find a solution to the crisis in DRC.

The M23 rose to prominence a decade ago when its fighters seized Goma, the largest city in Congo’s east, which sits along the border with Rwanda.

After a peace agreement, many of M23′s fighters were integrated into the national military.

Then the group re-emerged just over a year ago, saying the government had failed to live up to its promises under the peace deal.

By June, M23 had seized the strategic town of Bunagana near the border with Uganda.

It later took control of two more major towns — Rutshuru and Kiwanja.

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