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03/28/2024 DRC (International Christian Concern) —UN statistics show that 23.4 million — one in four — Congolese face hunger and malnutrition. That makes the central African country the worst affected by food insecurity in the world today. About 120 armed groups are fighting for ascendancy, with some motivated by Islamist extremism and violence focused near the country’s eastern border with Uganda and Rwanda.

About 7.1 million people are currently displaced in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). That number has grown by 800,000 since the beginning of this year. Much of the violence is happening in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where the M23 rebel group has surged in activity in recent months. The Islamist group ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) has been particularly active on the border between the two provinces, according to UN Special Representative Bintou Keita who heads the UN mission to DRC.

“All foreign forces illegally operating on DRC’s territory need to withdraw,” Keita said in a briefing to the UN Security Council this week “and national and foreign armed groups, such as the ADF and FDLR, need to be disarmed.”

According to data available from ACLED, a monitoring group, the number of violent incidents in North Kivu province was up 15% last week over the previous month, with violent incidents in Ituri climbing 57% in the same period.
The United Nations Security Council recently sanctioned the leaders of five armed rebel groups, including two ADF leaders.

The 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 affect 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, are explicitly motivated by Islamist extremism and have wrought significant damage on Christian populations and places of worship in recent years.

The UN mission, known as MONUSCO, began to pull out of the country in February, according to a statement by the force. MONUSCO has worked in the country for over 13 years and before the drawdown boasted nearly 18,000 personnel including about 14,000 armed troops.

The first phase of withdrawal will be focused on bases in South Kivu province, to be handed over to Congolese forces before May. Two later phases will see UN troops leave Ituri and North Kivu province, where the violence is concentrated. In a statement, MONUSCO said that it planned to complete the withdrawal nationwide by the end of December 2024, one year after the withdrawal was originally approved.

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 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.

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