M23 Appoints Territorial Administrators in ‘Liberated’ Zones Amid Ongoing Conflict

Bunagana, January 23, 2024- According to a statement from the M23 movement, signed by its president Bertrand Bisimwa, the group has recently announced a series of appointments to administer territories they claim to have “liberated.” This announcement, made during a press conference in Bunagana on November 18, 2023, marks a significant step in the group’s efforts to establish control in these areas.

These appointments by the M23 follow a period of intensified propaganda and recruitment efforts in the regions under their occupation. Reports indicate that M23 members, often dressed in civilian clothes, have been moving through villages in Eastern Congo. Their focus appears to be on persuading, particularly young individuals, to join their cause, employing methods reminiscent of those used by the FPR-Inkotanyi in Rwanda.

In the Masisi territory of North Kivu, the situation remains tense. Approximately 30,000 displaced individuals from the Monkoto camp, located 18 kilometers south of Kitshanga, have been forced to abandon the camp and return to their original villages. This mass movement, which occurred over the past weekend, has been attributed to threats from the M23 rebels. The local administrative authorities in Masisi have condemned this forced displacement.

However, these original villages remain under the control of the M23 rebels, raising serious concerns about the safety and welfare of the returning individuals. A human rights NGO has voiced alarm over this situation, highlighting potential violations of international humanitarian law. A representative from the human rights organization “Dynamique des jeunes,” who wished to remain anonymous, expressed deep concern for the security of these returning individuals. The representative fears that the population may be used as “human shields” by the rebels: “These areas, to which they are being forced to return, are still occupied by M23 rebels. We are apprehensive that these people might be used as human shields, as the M23 seeks to utilize them and blend into the population to evade government forces. This situation represents a serious violation of humanitarian rights for the Bashali population. As ‘Dynamique des jeunes,’ we urge the government to take swift and decisive action.”

The displaced persons, originating from areas like Mpati, Busumba, Kibarizo, Kirumbu, Kahira, and Kitshanga, had initially fled their homes approximately a year ago due to clashes between M23 rebels and local militias. Their return to these conflict-affected areas raises critical concerns regarding their safety and the broader implications for regional stability.