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DR Congo military court sentences 25 soldiers to death for fleeing fighting

A soldier in the DRC   -  
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

Twenty-five soldiers accused of fleeing fighting against M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were sentenced to death in a one-day trial on Wednesday.

A military court in North Kivu found them guilty of theft, fleeing the enemy, and violating orders, among other charges.

The army has been fighting the Rwanda-backed M23 insurgency in the region for more than two years, as well as facing violence from other militia.

Army officials on Tuesday detained 27 soldiers and 4 of their civilian wives, who had allegedly received goods stolen from shops in a nearby village.

They were brought before Butembo garrison military court the very next day.

One soldier was handed a 10-year prison sentence for robbery, while the four wives and another soldier were acquitted.

All but one of the 25 denied the charges. Their lawyer says he will appeal the verdict.

In March, the DRC lifted a moratorium on the death penalty, in place since 2003, citing treachery and espionage in recurring armed conflicts as the reason.

Faced with the ongoing security crisis in the east, the DRC’s army has become increasingly dysfunctional with soldiers inadequately equipped and morale low..

The United Nations says around 2.8 million people have been displaced within North Kivu province by fighting between the army and militia.

The M23 rebels have seized large swathes of territory in the mineral-rich province, and since last week have taken several towns on the northern front of the conflict.

Their gains include taking the strategic town of Kanyabayonga which is seen as a gateway to the major commercial centres of Butembo and Beni.

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