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Wednesday, 7th December 2022
10:00:27am

Central Africa

Articles related to Central Africa

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.

-Africa News

A military parade, punctuated by demonstrations of retaliation to attacks relatively unprecedented in their scale, was organized Thursday in Bangui, under very high security in this country in civil war since 2013, reported AFP journalists.

In a speech on the radio, President Faustin Archange Touadéra had promised the day before that the 64th anniversary of the proclamation of the Central African Republic on December 1, 1958 (independence from France dates from 1960, editor's note) would be placed under the sign of "security.

And this three days after an unidentified plane, which left for a neighboring country, bombed, according to the government, a camp of Central African soldiers and their Russian paramilitary allies in the north of the country, in Bossangoa, without causing any victims. 

Only a few hundred people, handpicked and rigorously searched, were allowed to enter Avenue Barthélémy Boganda, where the parade was held in the presence of President Touadéra, who was surrounded by a triple curtain of security consisting of numerous Central African soldiers, Rwandan UN peacekeepers, members of special forces provided by Kigali and Russian paramilitaries, all heavily armed.

Soldiers simulated blank-fire exchanges on an imaginary front line after rappelling from a helicopter, or an air defense operation.

The site was permanently overflown by video surveillance drones, and Russian paramilitaries from the private security group Wagner, wearing fatigues and heavily armed, secured the area, though a little more discreetly than usual.

An umpteenth civil war has been tearing apart this one of the world's poorest countries since 2013, when a coalition of armed groups dominated by Muslims, the Séléka, overthrew President François Bozizé. The latter then organized and armed so-called anti-balaka militias, which are mostly Christian and animist, to try to regain power.

The conflict, extremely deadly for civilians, peaked in 2018 before declining in intensity, and Séléka and anti-balaka are accused by the UN of having perpetrated numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In December 2020, Touadéra called on Moscow and Kigali to help counter an offensive by armed groups that then occupied two-thirds of the territory. Rwanda dispatched special forces and Russia sent hundreds of Wagner paramilitaries to reinforce hundreds of others present since 2018.

The rebels were quickly pushed back from most of their strongholds but continue to conduct sporadic guerrilla actions against the military and its Russian allies.

The UN and Western capitals accuse the Central African army and Wagner of committing crimes against civilians, as do the rebels, and Touadéra's government of paying paramilitaries and Russian companies with the country's mineral resources, especially gold and diamonds.

-Africa News

The Central African government said a plane that flew back to a neighboring country bombed a base of its army and Russian paramilitary allies in the northwest on Monday, threatening retaliation.

The aircraft "dropped explosives in the town" of Bossangoa "targeting the base of our defense forces, that of our allies as well as the cotton factory," the government of this country where the army and hundreds of fighters from the Russian private security group Wagner are fighting rebels said in a statement.

This is the first time, at least publicly announced, that a suspected attack by a hostile aircraft has occurred at least since the civil war began in 2013. 

The attack occurred in the middle of Sunday night, shortly before 3 a.m., according to Bangui.

-Material damage-

"These explosives caused significant material damage," the statement continued.

"This aircraft, after committing these crimes headed north before crossing our borders," the government said. Chad is located near the north of Bossangoa, a town that was until recently in the hands of rebels. 

An investigation has been opened to "establish responsibility" for "this despicable act perpetrated by enemies of peace (which) cannot go unpunished" and "all measures have already been taken to deal with any eventuality," the statement concluded.

Relations are tense between Chad and the Central African Republic. Bangui accuses N'Djamena of allowing armed groups to use its territory as a fallback base and of having granted asylum to their main leader, former president François Bozizé. 

In late May 2021, Chad accused the Central African army of killing six of its soldiers, five of whom were "abducted and executed," in an attack on a border post on its territory.

- "Without headlights" -

An aircraft "bombed the Russian base at 2:50 a.m., we heard at least four bombs but as it was night, we did not see the plane which was without headlights and made little noise," Etienne Ngueretoum, regional director of Water and Forests in Bossangoa, told AFP by telephone.

He said two bombs exploded in his garden, which adjoins a Russian-occupied cotton factory.

"The detonations were frightening, I'm fine, I just had a graze on my right leg from the shrapnel," he said.

-Wagner-

The mayor of Bossangoa, Pierre Denamguere, also confirmed the attack by phone to AFP. "It was a plane without lights and that we could not identify, the target was the cotton factory that the Russians and the armed forces use as a base, there is not too much damage," he commented.

President Faustin Archange Touadéra's government called on Moscow to come to the rescue when the rebels were advancing rapidly toward Bangui in December 2020.

Russian paramilitaries, including from Wagner, landed by the hundreds, bolstering hundreds more present since 2018.

The armed groups, which then occupied two-thirds of the Central African Republic, were quickly pushed back from most of their strongholds but continued to conduct sporadic guerrilla actions against the military and its allies, particularly between Bossangoa and the Chadian border.

-Africa News

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused his Democratic Republic of Congo counterpart Felix Tshisekedi of exploiting a violent crisis in eastern Congo to delay elections.

Fighting in eastern DRC between government forces and rebels from the M23, a former Tutsi rebellion, has heightened tensions with neighbouring Rwanda, which the DRC accuses of encouraging the militia. Kigali denies any involvement.

Talks between the two countries in Angola last week led to a ceasefire that appears to have held for several days. 

In a state address on Wednesday (November 30), Kagame said "the whole world" blamed Rwanda for the crisis, but that it was Felix Tshisekedi who was seeking to profit from the violence ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 20 December 2023.

In the DRC, the presidential election is a one-round election, coupled with legislative elections as well as elections for provincial deputies and communal councillors.

"This problem can be solved if a country that is heading for elections next year does not try to create the conditions for an emergency situation so that the elections do not take place," Kagame said at a swearing-in ceremony for new cabinet members. 

"If he is trying to find another way to postpone the next elections, then I would prefer that he uses other excuses, and not us," Kagame said.

Felix Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019.

The electoral commission said this month that continuing insecurity in parts of the country would pose a challenge to a "free, democratic and transparent" vote.

Under the ceasefire that came into effect on 25 November, M23 fighters must withdraw from "occupied areas" or an East African regional force would intervene. 

The M23 is one of dozens of armed groups that have made eastern Congo one of the most violent regions in Africa.

Another round of talks with armed groups continued in Kenya on Wednesday, without the presence of the M23.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the former Kenyan president overseeing the talks, said foreign rebel groups operating on Congolese soil "should leave" or face DRC and East African troops. "They have already been warned: the DRC will not be a fighting centre for other countries," Uhuru Kenyatta said.

-Africa News

The ceasefire between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army appeared to be holding on Monday in eastern DRC, but no movement to withdraw from areas occupied by the rebellion, as called for by the Luanda summit, appeared to be taking place, according to reports gathered by AFP.

As at the weekend, clashes pitted the Tutsi rebel M23 against Hutu militias, notably the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

"During the night, an M23 vehicle was ambushed" near the village of Kinyandonyi, in Rutshuru territory. Another attack attributed to the same militia took place on Sunday about 30 km away, in the locality of Biruma, according to a local resident. 

A hospital source also said that six civilians were killed in clashes on Saturday in the same area between the M23 and "mai-mai" (community militias) in Kisharo .

But no fighting was reported between the M23 and the loyalist army, as the two sides continued to observe each other on the various front lines, including that of Kibumba, the closest - about 20 km - to the major city of Goma, capital of North Kivu province.

During an offensive launched last month, the rebels quickly approached the town but have not advanced for about two weeks, progressing instead on other fronts, towards the west in the direction of Masisi, and the northeast.

A precarious calm has prevailed since the weekend, suggesting that calls for a ceasefire may have been heeded.

Last Wednesday, a mini-summit in Luanda decided on a cessation of hostilities on Friday evening, followed two days later by the withdrawal of the M23 rebels "from occupied areas" and their "withdrawal to their initial positions" on Sunday.

But no withdrawal was triggered on Monday. "We have always said that we are asking for dialogue with the government and at that time we will discuss this issue," said Willy Ngoma, M23 military spokesman.

The Luanda summit added that if the M23 rebels refused to withdraw, the East African regional force deployed in Goma would "use force to push them into submission".

As long as the M23 occupies parts of Congolese territory, the Kinshasa government refuses to talk to the M23, which it describes as a "terrorist movement" backed by Rwanda.

A new round of talks with armed groups active in eastern DRC opened in Nairobi on Monday, without the M23.

-Africa News

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