The accounts are haunting. Abductions, torture, rapes. Scores of civilians, including women and children, have been killed by the M23 rebels in eastern Congo, according to a U.N. report
In addition, the M23 rebels have forced children to be soldiers, according to the report by a panel of U.N. experts. The 21-page report based on interviews with more than 230 sources and visits to the Rutshuru area of Congo’s North Kivu province, where the M23 has seized territory, is expected to be published this week.
The conflict has been simmering in eastern Congo for decades. More than 120 armed groups are fighting in the region, most for land and control of mines with valuable minerals, while some groups are trying to protect their communities.
The already volatile situation significantly deteriorated this year when the M23 resurfaced after being largely dormant for nearly a decade.
The M23 first rose to prominence 10 years ago when its fighters seized Goma, the largest city in Congo’s east, which sits on the border with Rwanda. The group derives its name from a peace agreement signed on March 23, 2009, which called for the rebels to be integrated into the Congo army. The M23 accuse the government of not implementing the accord.
In late 2021 the reactivated M23 began killing civilians and capturing swaths of territory. M23 fighters raped and harassed women trying to farm family fields in areas controlled by the rebels, according to the report. The insurgents accused civilians of spying for the Congolese army, said the report. It said they were often incarcerated, and some were beaten to death.
Not only are populations living under M23 subject to abuse, but they are forced to pay taxes, said the panel. At the Bunagana border crossing with Uganda, the rebels earned an average of $27,000 a month, making people carrying goods pay as they entered and left the country, said the UN. Two locals living under M23 who did not want to be named for fear of their safety told The Associated Press they’d been forced to bring the rebels bags of beans, pay $5 if they wanted to access their farms and take backroads if they want to leave the village for fear of reprisal.
The M23 did not respond to questions about the allegations but has previously dismissed it as propaganda.