DR Congo soldiers sentenced to death for desertion


Twenty-five soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army have been sentenced to death after fleeing fighting against notorious M23 rebels in the conflict-torn east of the country.

The soldiers were also convicted by a military court of theft, stealing goods from shops in a nearby village after abandoning their positions, an army spokesman said.

Four soldiers’ wives were acquitted by the military court of receiving goods looted by their husbands.

In March, the government lifted a moratorium on the death penalty that had been in place for more than 20 years, after the justice minister said it was necessary to remove “traitors” from the army.

A lawyer for the soldiers, two of whom were captains, said he would appeal the verdict, handed down on Wednesday by a military court in DR Congo’s North Kivu province.

In addition to the 25 people sentenced to death, one soldier was sentenced to 10 years in prison and another was acquitted.

In May, a military court in the city of Goma sentenced eight soldiers to death for “desertion” and “cowardice” during the fight against rebels. They are also appealing their sentences.

The M23 rebels have captured several towns in recent days, including the strategic city of Kanyabayonga.

Neighbouring Rwanda is often accused of supporting the M23, but the government in Kigali denies this.

The UN calls the current situation in North Kivu “particularly worrying”.

According to the organization, more than 150,000 civilians have fled in the past week, further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the region, where 2.8 million people have already been displaced.

North Kivu is also “dangerous” for humanitarian workers, the UN said.

On Sunday, two aid workers from the charity Tearfund were killed after their convoy was attacked in the town of Butembo.

The army’s fight against the M23 and other rebel groups in the east has long been hampered by disarray within its ranks.

The army is seen as unprofessional and poorly disciplined, with soldiers complaining of poor pay and a lack of equipment.

Both the UN and regional states have troops in DR Congo to support the army, but they have failed to stop the violence.

M23 fighters are known for being well armed and disciplined.

The rebel group began its activities in 2012, ostensibly to protect the Tutsi population in eastern DR Congo, a population that had long complained of persecution and discrimination.

Despite Rwanda’s denials, UN experts, along with France and the US, claim the M23 is backed by the government of President Paul Kagame.

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