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DRC: Kishishe survivors haunted by nightmare of M23 occupation

Kishishe, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on April 5, 2023.   -  
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ALEXIS HUGUET/AFP or licensors

Democratic Republic Of Congo

In Kishishe, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the M23 rebel group reportedly left the village in early April.

Still, inhabitants are haunted by a massacre that was perpetrated between November 21 and 30, 2022, when the armed group controlled the area.

A witness of the massacre of the Adventist church that will be named Michel recounts the executions:

"The M23 said, 'All the men who are in the church, you pretend to be displaced persons, but you are the rebels who shot at us. So they took all the men back to Mzee Bita's banana plantation."

"They said, 'Sit here and put your feet in the hole, stand in a circle around the hole,' and they started shooting them, and they started killing the others next to them when the first hole had been filled."

Another witness who says he was forced by the rebels to bury some of the dead remembers how the bodies were made to disappear: "The M23 used tree trunks, the ones we use to build our houses. They piled up a lot of tree trunks and put them on top of the people they had killed. When they finished putting everything in place, they took gasoline and poured it on top, and then set in on fire."

No return to normal

The UN Joint Human Rights Office reported that the rebels summarily executed at least 171 people in the localities of Bambo and Kishishe last November. A regional force has since been overseeing the withdrawal of rebel groups in the east of the DRC. Last week, the East African forces announced they were in control of Bunagana, a strategic town in eastern DRC previously held by M23 rebels for more than nine months.

Life hasn’t returned to normal for many civilians for all that.

A teacher at the school that was used by the M23 rebels as a base, says it is urgent for the state to provide support so that the children to get back to school: "Today, children are misbehaving because they no longer go to school," Bitegetsimana Sekagabo Charles considered.

"Our community does not have the means to rebuild the schools. It is only with the help of the government that we could rebuild the schools, besides it is their schools."

DRC’s Justice minister urged last year, the International Criminal Court to prioritize crimes committed in the east.

The "March 23 Movement" seized large swaths of territory in the region after re-emerging in late 2021.

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