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Wed Feb 27, 2013 2:41AM
M23 rebels sitting in the back of a truck (file photo)

M23 rebels sitting in the back of a truck (file photo)

At least eight people have been killed in a rocket attack in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. On Tuesday, UN-backed Radio Okapi reported that the eight people, most of whom were civilians, died when a rocket hit a bar in the center of the town of Rutshuru in North Kivu province in eastern Congo. In addition, a local businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that he saw the eight bodies and added that the fighting was between factions of the March 23 movement (M23). According to Radio Okapi, the fighting broke out on Sunday between rebels loyal to Sultani Makenga, the M23 military chief, and supporters of warlord Bosco Ntaganda. Ntaganda, known by the nom de guerre "Terminator" due to his brutal methods, has been wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2006 on charges of committing the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen and using them to participate actively in hostilities. M23 spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa confirmed on Tuesday that there was fighting in Rutshuru, but denied any factional split. Bisimwa blamed the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) for the fighting. “It wasn't our men fighting. It was the FDLR, unfortunately right in the center of Rutshuru… Everything is calm in our ranks," he said. On Monday, AFP reported that the fighting broke out late on Sunday in the Rutshuru area because of differences within the ranks of M23 over the stance the rebels should take on the peace deal that was signed by regional leaders on Sunday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. A hospital source in the town of Rutshuru said that 10 people died in Monday’s clashes, while two injured men were taken in for medical treatment. On Sunday, the eleven countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa signed a UN-mediated peace agreement meant to end the interminable cycles of violence that have been plaguing the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for many years. The leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia signed the peace deal, which paves the way for the deployment of a new military brigade to take on rebel groups fighting the Kinshasa government. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attended the signing ceremony, but no representatives of rebel groups came to Addis Ababa. In a meeting in the Mozambican capital Maputo on February 8, leaders from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) approved the deployment of a 4,000-strong peacekeeping force, which would come from Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries, to Congo. The force will be able to combat "whoever is trying to destabilize the situation in the eastern part of Congo," SADC Secretary General Tomaz Salomao said after the meeting. The force would be contained within the existing UN peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUSCO -- the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In July 2012, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, along with other leaders from the Great Lakes region, signed an accord that called for the creation of a neutral international military force to combat rebels in the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu in the eastern Congo. The agreement also called for the Great Lakes leaders to work with the African Union and the United Nations "for an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), and all other negative forces in eastern DRC, and patrol and secure the border zones." The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009. Since early May 2012, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead. NT/HGL
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