Eric, Samuel, Tuyisenge, and Florence described how they were forced to trek for miles to escape a horrifying rebel attack on their village in a displacement camp in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The United Nations reports that on November 29–30, in two villages in Rutshuru territory, including Kishishe, M23 rebels killed at least 131 civilians, including 12 children, and engaged in more than 20 rapes.
The gang has denied any involvement, attributing the fatalities of only eight civilians to “stray gunshots.”
But in the Mungote camp, Eric Nesehose claimed he would never forget seeing the shooting deaths of his nephews Jacques and Musayi.
“They went out of the house, shouting ‘there’s gunfire’,” he stated and “Bullets hit them at the door and killed them instantly.”
Eric and other villagers travelled 40 to 60 kilometers (25 to 37 miles) across the hills to the Mungote camp in the Kitshanga district as they fled for their lives.
Three locals and three members of Samuel’s own family, including his older brother James, were among the six dead bodies he claimed to have seen.
The young man stated that “the rebels started shooting everywhere.”
“I made the decision to run, and it took me a week to walk here barefooted.”
Numerous armed groups are based in the eastern DRC, which has seen years of unrest.
After being idle for years, the March 23 movement, a predominantly Congolese Tutsi militia, started fighting again in late 2021.
Recently, it has taken over large areas of land in the Rutshuru territory to the north of Goma.
According to the UN’s MONUSCO peacekeeping operation, it was unable to enter Kishishe and the neighboring town of Bambo to look into the killings last month, but instead obtained information from witnesses and other sources.
It claims that the attacks on civilians were in retaliation for fights between the M23 and other armed groups—mostly Hutu ones.
Twisenge Manirakiz, 30, a resident of Mungote, claimed that the majority of her family had vanished in the massacre.
She spoke while holding a small infant in a bundle on her back and stated, “We were in the chapel when we heard the bullets.”
“Everyone took off running in different directions in an effort to save themselves. Some people took cover behind the school, and when the shooting didn’t stop, they fled into the bushes.” with tears in her eyes, she continued, “I saw nine bodies on the ground.”
“I have seven kids, but I only brought three with me when I came here. I don’t know where my husband is, and the other four have vanished,” she stated.
Florence, 45, a local who lives amidst the huts, claimed it took her days to go to the camp.
Her spouse and two of her children, she added, were missing.
She arrived with nothing but the clothing on her back, like the majority of the displaced.
She said, “People who feel sorry for me offer me sweet potatoes.”
Those displaced by the fighting in eastern DRC have long been welcomed in Mungote, including those who escaped a previous M23 offensive in 2012 when the rebels briefly took control of the capital city of Goma.
Before the most recent round of violence, 40,000 households were already residing there, according to camp officials, and 4,000 more had come in the last few weeks, straining supplies.
“Up to four families—men, women, and children—are sleeping in a single hut.” As reported by the deputy head of the camp, Vumilia Peruse, “They come empty-handed… To prevent a catastrophe, the government must step in as quickly as possible.”