The situation in Mweso, a city located in the chiefdom of Bashali in the Masisi territory of North Kivu, has become increasingly dire as of Thursday, January 25, 2024. Tragically, more than seven people have lost their lives due to a bomb dropped by rebels from the M23 group in the afternoon, according to the Masisi civil society reported by 7SUR7.CD. The attack has resulted not only in these fatalities but also in numerous injuries among the civilian population and significant material damage.
Voltaire Batundi, the president of the local civil society, describes a chaotic scene in Mweso. He reports that the M23 rebels dropped multiple bombs in the city, with one striking a private home that housed several individuals, leading to seven deaths and many serious injuries. Batundi calls for the warring parties, specifically the M23 and its allies, and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), to respect human rights.
Highlighting the vulnerability of the local population, Batundi notes that civilians in and around Mweso are scattered, having fled the fighting. He urges restraint in the use of indiscriminate bombing and calls on the Congolese government and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to take offensive action against the rebels responsible for the civilian deaths.
The conflict in the region has intensified over the past three days, with clashes between the local resistance group known as Wazalendo and the M23 rebels in the Masisi territory. This escalation of violence has led to a paralysis of activities in several sectors, particularly in villages around Mweso.
Early on the morning of the incident, fierce battles erupted between the Wazalendo youth resistance and the M23 rebels, continuing a trend of increasing violence in the area. The perpetrator of the bombing remains unidentified, as both sides accuse each other. Bertrand Bisimwa, President of M23, claims the bomb was from FARDC, while the Wazalendo resistance insists it was launched by the rebels in retaliation for losses they have suffered.
Héritier Ndangendange, a spokesperson for the Wazalendo, challenges the notion that his group would bomb an area they control, questioning the logic behind such an action. Medical sources on the ground, whom we contacted, suggest the bomb originated from M23-held territory, noting that no fighter jets or drones were seen or heard in the area.
These sources further describe a tragic scene with multiple civilian casualties, including children and women, many of whom are critically injured. While they cannot confirm with certainty that the bomb was from M23, they indicate it came from a direction consistent with M23-controlled areas. The medical situation is complicated, with Wazalendo previously controlling the entire city before a sudden and dramatic change in the conflict dynamics.
Following new reinforcements by M23 rebels in Mweso on the evening of Wednesday, January 24, it was foreseeable that clashes might resume at any moment. The fighting recommenced at around 10:30 AM on Thursday in several locations across Mweso, with Wazalendo forces being attacked by M23. The Wazalendo youth, determined to regain control of the city, have been engaged in a fierce battle against the rebels.
Lawrence Kanyuka, the spokesperson for M23, accuses the coalition forces of the “illegitimate regime of Kinshasa” – including FARDC, FDLR, mercenaries, national defense forces, and SADC forces – of indiscriminately bombing densely populated areas in and around Mweso, resulting in the massacre of civilians, including women and children. He condemns these acts as war crimes and promises more details as the situation unfolds.
Bertrand Bisimwa, President of M23, has also spoken out, decrying the bombing of residential areas in Mweso by drones of the Kinshasa regime’s coalition forces. He describes a horrific scene of casualties among the civilian population, with dead bodies, including those of babies, women, and men, and widespread destruction of homes, churches, and schools. Bisimwa accuses Kinshasa of using drones to kill innocents far from the battle lines, categorizing these actions as war crimes.
On social media, accounts linked to M23 and supporters of the Rwandan Government have begun circulating images of destroyed houses and decapitated bodies, purportedly belonging to civilians from Mweso.