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DR Congo Soldiers Sentenced to Death for Fleeing Battle Against M23 Rebels
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Twenty-five soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army have been sentenced to death by a military tribunal for fleeing battles against the notorious M23 rebels in the conflict-ridden east of the country. The soldiers were also convicted of theft after stealing goods from shops in a nearby village following their abandonment of their positions, according to an army spokesman.

Four of the soldiers’ wives were acquitted by the military court of receiving goods looted by their husbands. A lawyer for the soldiers, two of whom were captains, stated that he would appeal the sentence handed down on Wednesday in North Kivu province.

In addition to the 25 death sentences, one soldier received a 10-year prison sentence, and another was acquitted. In May, a military court in Goma sentenced eight soldiers to death for “desertion” and “cowardice” in battles against rebel forces. These soldiers are also appealing their sentences.

The M23 rebels have recently captured several towns, including the strategic town of Kanyabayonga. Neighboring Rwanda is widely accused of backing the M23, but the Kigali government denies these allegations.

The UN has expressed concern over the current situation in North Kivu, noting that more than 150,000 civilians fled their homes in the past week, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis in a region where 2.8 million people had already been displaced. The UN also highlighted the dangers for humanitarian workers in North Kivu. On Sunday, two aid workers with the charity Tearfund were killed after their convoy was attacked in Butembo.

The DR Congo army’s efforts against the M23 and other rebel groups have been hampered by internal disarray, with the army being criticized for unprofessionalism and poor discipline. Soldiers often complain of inadequate pay and equipment. Despite support from the UN and regional states, the violence continues unabated.

The M23 rebels, who began operating in 2012, claim to protect the Tutsi population in eastern DR Congo, who have long faced persecution and discrimination. Despite Rwanda’s denials, UN experts, along with France and the US, assert that the M23 is supported by President Paul Kagame’s government.

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Piers Potter

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