AFRICA/CONGO DR - New massacre in Ituri two days before the papal visit, while M23 advances in North Kivu

Monday, 30 January 2023 pope francis   armed groups   massacres  

Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) - As Pope Francis prepares to visit Kinshasa, dramatic news continues to arrive from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least 15 people have died in a triple assault on three villages in Ituri, attributed to the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) the Ugandan-origin group blamed for the attack committed on Sunday, January 15 against the Church of Christ in Congo (Eglise du Christ au Congo ECC) in Kasindi, Beni Territory, North Kivu (see Fides, 16/1/2023).
Ituri and North Kivu provinces have been under a "state of siege" introduced by the Kinshasa government since May 2021 to contain the violence committed by hundreds of armed groups operating in the two areas (see Fides, 7/5/2021).
These measures, which affect the population because they give broad powers to the military that are not always respectful of human rights (see Fides, 29/5/2021), do not seem able to curb the actions of guerrilla groups, starting with the M23. "The M23 now has control over the two main routes that connect the northern part (the Great North) of North Kivu to its capital, the city of Goma, which now finds itself completely isolated, since the M23 have blocked the traffic on these two roads, Kasindi - Beni - Butembo - Kanyabayonga - Kitchanga - Goma and the Bunagana - Rutchuru - Goma", states the latest report sent to Fides from the Peace for Congo Network. "As a result, Goma is already suffering from the scarcity and rising prices of food and basic necessities," the report points out. "M23 currently occupies more than 100 villages in the Rutchuru territory; in many of them it has set up an administration parallel to that of the State, appointing new local authorities loyal to it and imposing illegal taxes; it has carried out massacres of civilian populations (e.g., in Ruvumu and Ruseke, on June 21 and July 1, 2022, respectively, with 21 victims; Kishishe, on December 29 and 30, 2022, with 131 victims according to Monusco, 287 victims according to the Congolese government); and carried out arbitrary arrests and acts of torture".
"As shown by the latest report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo published in late December 2022, the M23 is supported by the Rwandan army, which is providing it with troops (many hundreds of Rwandan soldiers, perhaps more than a thousand), weapons, ammunition, uniforms, helmets, bulletproof vests," says the Peace Network for Congo. Pope Francis will travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on January 31, 2023 and will remain there until February 3, 2023. Francis will not travel to the east of the country because of insecurity. It is in Kinshasa, capital of the DRC, that he will pray for the people of the east, who have been victims of human barbarism and evil for three decades. "The main challenge of the moment is the unity of all Congolese. They must put aside divisions in order to overcome the fight against the balkanization of the country and to save the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the DRC. Because a house divided in itself cannot stand", stresses the Congo Peace Network. According to Bishop Théophile Kaboy, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Goma, "the message 'All reconciled in Jesus Christ,' the main thread of Pope Francis' pastoral trip to the DRC, urges the Congolese people to intensify prayer, to rebuild shattered hopes, heal all kinds of wounds following the example of the Good Samaritan of the Gospel, and face together the real dangers of upheaval in the Country, the symptoms of which are clearly visible today. This is what we urgently need at this time". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 30/1/2023)