Today, the area is under the control of M23. During the recent armed confrontation on 29th November 2022, combatants and residents lost lives but contradictory reports that followed the incident sparked confusion.
The Government of Congo rushed to release contradictory reports on the number of citizens who lost lives during the clashes. Initially, the military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Sylvain Ekenge, disclosed on 1st December 2022, that 50 citizens died during the fighting.
On the next day, DRC government contradicted his figures and announced that the fighting took lives of 100 and declared three-day mourning.
Later on 5th December, the Minister of Industry, Julien Paluku and the Government Spokesperson, Patrick Muyaya convinced the world that over 300 people were brutally killed by M23. In fact, it seemed like every one published figures that randomly came their mind at random.
However, the series of contradictions did not end there. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) joined the race and confirmed that the clashes claimed lives of 131 people including women and children.
On 30th November 2022, Bintou Keita, the United Nations Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the MONUSCO demanded the UN Security Council to condemn the killings and exert pressure on M23 to release captured residents.
The Congolese government took advantage of Kishishe clashes and sounded several alarms but it was latter established that neither the DRC nor MONUSCO published figures after conducting an investigation.
The situation prompted seasoned war correspondents like Marc Hoogsteyns and Adeline Umutoni to travel to the area along with human rights lawyer, Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuriza to dig deep what happened on 29th November 2022.
Their report made up of 29 pages features evidences and testimonies of residents who were present at the time. They also disclosed the names of killed relatives and showed graveyards in which they were buried.
To access the area, the journalists sought accreditation from M23 which controls the area. According to residents’ witnesses, their security is guaranteed under the control of M23.
Findings of the Kishishe report:
1. What happened on 29th November and previous seven days
The report shows that the clashes began on 21st November 2022 around 8:00 a.m. On this day, M23 combatants entered Bambo trade center located in 5 kilometers from Kishishe. At the time, M23 was fighting other armed groups alongside FARDC. These include FDLR, Nyatura and Mai-Mai.
After entering Bambo, FARDC and its allies fled to Kishishe. The fighting resumed the next day on 22nd November around 12:00 midday.
It is said that the fighting claimed the life of one civilian identified as Mama Kamuzungu’ after a rocket crushed his house.
Witnesses say that the rocket was propelled by FARDC forces from afar.
On the second day of the fighting, M23 quelled FARDC and affiliated rebel groups and occupied Kishishe.
The rebel group did not stay for long in Kishishe. It went to another area known as ‘Domaine’ in the outskirts Virunga National Park that was previously a stronghold for FDLR where it grew different crops and cannabis to be sold in towns of Northern Kivu Province.
Five days after restoring calm in the area, Mai Mai returned to Kishishe from its hideouts in Miliki, Kanyabayonga and Kibirizi.
A nurse identified as Limbana Victor from Kishishe is among witnesses who were on ground.
“We experienced two wars here in Kishishe. The first was on the 22nd November 2022, and the second was on the 29th of the same month. The first time M23 arrived, they chased FARDC. There was no killing, perhaps looting of shops,” she said.
Residents started fleeing to Bambo, Kibirizi and Virunga Park after witnessing the arrival of rebels.
Others stayed in their houses in Kishishe trade center while others fled to the church of the Seventh Adventist Day nearby the village where Mai Mai fighters had ambushed M23 combatants.
On 29th November 2022, M23 returned to Kishishe from Domaine. While on the way, they learnt that Mai Mai laid an ambush against them.
The fighting resumed as soon as M23 arrived in Kishishe around 10:00 a.m.
The report reads that calm was restored in the village in pone hour as Mai Mai fighters had been chased out.
2. Death toll
Following the fighting, M23 requested residents to get out of their hiding places and assess the number of those who lost lives during the fighting.
It was established that 19 civilians died during the fighting which is far different from the exaggerated figures released by DRC and MONUSCO.
Only eight people were identified as residents of Kishishe. A report was made and signed by residents before their burial.
M23 asserts that the residents were killed by stray bullets because the fighting took place in a densely populated village.
M23 identified the remaining 11 people as rebels even though residents testified against it. The deceased were killed in the areas of Kirama and Sukuma.
“I live in Nyabihanda, twenty houses from here (at the church). Following what happened in Kiwanja, we were briefed that once the enemy comes, we had to hide in houses. I stayed in Kishishe for around 3 days. While I was in the center, I saw around 25 Mai-Mai in civilian clothes with spears and firearms.
They were coming to avenge a Nande (Mai-Mai) who had reportedly been killed. They could not locate his body that night. Once they got information that the M23 were back from Domaine, some locals fled. Upon arrival, M23 rebels were ambushed by Mai-Mai. The two groups fought for a while, then after the fight ended, I discovered people who had been killed, including the pastor and his son. No one from Nyabihande was killed,” said Ndoriyobijya Rwamironko.
Uwihoreye Furaha, spouse to Hungu Faustin also said: “I was hiding in the church (Mu gisomo) when the fighting happened. We were forced to leave our houses and they took us to the church. We were together with about 12 men. I could not recognize the men who told us to lift our hands up, but all I know is that they are new to Kishishe.”
In 2020, DRC reported that massacres in Kipupu in Southern Kivu Province claimed lives of 220. However, MONUSCO investigated the case and confirmed 15 deaths only.
3. Identifications of the deceased
The report indicates that the eight deceased civilians include Fumbo Miss, Segatumberi James, Mumbere Dieu Aimé (the son of Shakwira), Serugendo Manishimwe alias Mushime (the son of Segatumberi James), Semutobe Kuhongera, Paluku Siwatura Letakamba André, Maman Kamuzungu and Mutampera.
The report also features the names of alleged combatants including Mushi (Baba Tumu), Nizeye (Baba Zawa), Baseme Karekezi, Bahati Sentama, Batahwa Ndaki-Joel, Semugaye (Baba Chatete), Muhawe Munyazikwiye, Kababa Ndamiyeho, Manyinya Deo, Sebuhoro Kajolite, Kinyoni Mweshi, Zaire Nzabonimpa and Rukenyera Ndimubanzi.
Even though M23 acknowledges the death of eight civilians, residents say that the confrontations left 19 civilians dead but they are not fully aware of the situation because the alleged combatants appeared in civilian clothes.
Pastor Mahwera working with Red Cross said that he fled when M23 returned in Kishishe for the second time. He returned to bury killed victims whom he said were killed by M23.
“On the first battle in Kishishe, no one was killed. Killings happened on the second battle. I did not witness the killings because I had fled the center. I came back to identify the bodies and I attended the burial. Civilians were killed by M23. Blood was at that place where we found bodies, no blood was in the church as no one was killed inside,” he said.
Even though some of their names are known, residents agree that the 11 people that M23 claims they are combatants are not members of the village.
4. Mass grave
The report reads that the eight civilians were buried by their families while the alleged 11 combatants were buried in three mass graves.
The report also shows the pictures of graves in which the deceased were buried.
5. Findings on reported deaths of children and women
MONUSCO’s preliminary investigation conducted on 7th December indicated that 131 civilians killed by M23 include children and women.
Women and children are entitled to special protection under the International laws as vulnerable groups. Killing them is regarded as extreme cruelty and aggravates the severity of a crime.
However, the report indicates that no children, minors, or women were killed in Kishishe among the 19 individuals who died on 29th November 2022.
The woman highlighted in the report is identified as Mama Kamazungu who died on 22nd November succumbing to fragments of a rocket shelled by FARDC on his house.
6. Collaboration between FARDC, FDLR, Mai Mai, Nyatura and other armed groups in Kishishe
It has been reported that Congolese Army (FARDC) work with armed groups behind insecurity in Northern Kivu. The new report proves it. It was also pointed out by citizens who seem to be familiar with the situation given that FDLR and Mai Mai are responsible for tax collections in Kishishe.
For instance, rebels entered Bambo business center located in five kilometers from Kishishe on 21st November 2022 around 8:00 a.m. At the time they were fighting with FARDC’s allies including FDLR, Nyatura and Mai-Mai.
The report indicates that FARDC and the armed groups fled to Kishishe as soon as M23 arrived in Bambo. The fighting resumed around 12:00 midday on the next day but M23 defeated them.
On 28th November 2022, Mai Mai combatants returned to Kishishe from their hideouts in Miliki, Kanyabayonga and Kibirizi. The 19 victims were killed during confrontations that took place on the next day.
Residents themselves testify that they are aware of the collaboration between FARDC and armed groups in the area. They told the team that produced the report that FARDC never goes to the battle ground but stays from afar and shells rockets to reinforce the rebel groups working with them.
7. Truth on civilians allegedly captured by M23
DRC government said that M23 captured civilians found in Kishishe and Bambo and restrained them from fleeing lest they disclose its violence.
However, the new report features civilians’ testimonies disclosing that they were not forced to stay in Kishishe because it is their home.
8. MONUSCO’s stance
Few days after confrontations in Kishishe, MONUSCO released a statement confirming that 131 died during the fighting. The figures were released based on testimonies of those who fled the area without visiting the ground.
The team which released this report asked MONUSCO why it dared announcing the figures without visiting the area but replied that it considered testimonies of civilians who fled the area.
When asked why they declined to conduct a deep investigation on the request of M23, they replied that they will go to the ground by the time MONUSCO will have been given go ahead.
9. Rwanda’s stance
Witnesses in MONUSCO’s report said that they saw soldiers speaking English and suspected them to be Rwandans.
The Spokesperson of the Government of Rwanda said that Rwandan troops are not the only ones who can speak English in the region. She explained that the allegations are part of Congo’s agenda to put its problems on the shoulders of Rwanda.
“The fact is this incident has not been investigated by any credible organization and the conclusions drawn are just allegations with a clear agenda to continue blaming Rwanda. In any case, this would be a very tenuous link, as the RDF is not the only army in the region that speaks English, and it cannot be put forward as proof of the presence of the RDF,” she noted.