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03/08/2024 DRC (International Christian Concern) — More than 100,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes this week after two days of fierce fighting in eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo that saw the fall of Nyanzale town to M23, a terror organization, according to a UN statement. Located in North Kivu province, Nyanzale is only 130 km from Goma, the capital and largest city in the province and a strategic military prize currently controlled by Congolese forces.

Over a dozen civilians, including children, were killed in this week’s attacks in Nyanzale, according to officials cited in the media. Though precise numbers are difficult to obtain, experts estimate that about six million have died in the armed conflict since 1996.

The United States and many other governments accuse neighboring Rwanda of backing M23, an accusation that Rwanda denies despite significant evidence substantiating the claim. After years of dormancy, M23 began launching attacks in 2021 and has since grown to become one of the most powerful militant groups in the DRC, a country torn apart by tensions between what is estimated to be about 120 militant groups.

DRC is largely made up of Christians, with about 95% of the population identifying with some branch of Christianity. Though M23 is not primarily motivated by religious animosity toward Christians, reports suggest that their attacks impact religious practice significantly and may have some root in ethnoreligious tensions dating back to the Rwandan genocide.

Other groups in the DRC, such as the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces), are explicitly motivated by Islamist extremism and have wrought significant damage on Christian populations and places of worship in recent years.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission to the DRC, known as MONUSCO, began to pull out of the country last month, according to a statement by the force. MONUSCO has worked in the country for more than 13 years and before the drawdown boasted nearly 18,000 personnel including about 14,000 armed troops.

Despite rampant insecurity and the inability of the Congolese government to quell the violence, especially in the country’s north and east, the UN mission has become increasingly unpopular with Congolese government leaders in recent years. In December, the UN Security Council approved the withdrawal after Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi requested a fast-tracked withdrawal some months earlier.

The United States recently criticized Congolese government forces for their support of the FDLR, an armed ethnic group fighting in the region. “The United States has been consistent in denouncing the collaboration between elements of the Congolese armed forces and UN- and U.S.-sanctioned armed actors, including the FDLR,” Ambassador Robert Wood, the deputy permanent representative of the United States to the UN, said in a statement.

M23 has used surface-to-air missiles to fire on MONUSCO air assets. “The fact that Rwanda, a major troop contributor to UN peacekeeping, would take such hostile action against a UN mission is deeply unsettling,” said Ambassador Wood, calling it “cause for serious evaluation by the international community.”

The United Nations Security Council recently sanctioned the leaders of five armed rebel groups. The list of those sanctioned includes two leaders of the ADF, a notorious terrorist group guilty of continued violence against civilians, including vulnerable Christian communities in the DRC.

On the same day as the UN announcement was made, local authorities and civil society leaders announced that the ADF had conducted attacks in the eastern Ituri and North Kivu provinces, killing at least 24 civilians including women and children. ADF is among the most powerful armed groups, even advancing on Goma, the capital of North Kivu and the province’s largest city.

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