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The accounts are haunting. Abductions, torture, rapes. Scores of civilians, including women and children, have been killed by M23 rebels in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, per a UN report. In addition, the rebels have forced children to be soldiers, according to the 21-page report by a panel of UN experts. The document—based on interviews with more than 230 sources and visits to the Rutshuru area of Congo’s North Kivu province, where the M23 have seized territory—is set to be published this week, per the AP.

Conflict has been simmering for decades in eastern Congo, where more than 120 armed groups are fighting in the region, most for land and control of mines with valuable minerals; 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, which also noted that the rebels accused civilians of spying for the Congolese army. Such civilians were often incarcerated and some were beaten to death, per the report. Not only are populations living under M23 subject to abuse, but they’re forced to pay taxes, said the panel. The M23 didn’t respond to questions about the allegations, but has previously dismissed it as propaganda.

“The violence by the rebels is part of an overall worsening of the crisis in eastern Congo, with fighting by armed groups intensifying and expanding in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces,” said the report. Adding to the difficult situation in eastern Congo, attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces—believed to be linked with the Islamic State group—are increasing, said the report. The fighting is also exacerbating eastern Congo’s dire humanitarian crisis. Almost 6 million people are internally displaced in Congo, with more than 450,000 displaced in the North Kivu province since clashes escalated in February. (Read more M23 stories.)

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Women, Children in DRC Raped, Tortured in Droves: UN – Vigour Times

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