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Twenty-five soldiers accused of “fleeing the enemy” while fighting M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced to death Wednesday during a one-day trial, according to their lawyers.

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AFP

Twenty-five soldiers accused of “fleeing the enemy” while fighting M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced to death Wednesday during a one-day trial, according to their lawyers.

 

DR congo

In this file photo, M23 rebels stand with their weapons in Kibumba, in the eastern of Democratic Republic of Congo. AP

 

A total of 31 defendants, including 27 soldiers and four of their civilian wives, appeared before the Butembo garrison military court in North Kivu province, near the front line.

They had faced several charges including “fleeing the enemy”, dissipating munitions of war, violating orders and theft, Jules Muvweko, one of defence lawyers told AFP.

At the end of the hearing, “25 soldiers, including two captains, were sentenced to death”, Muvweko said, adding the defence intended to appeal.

The other accused, including the four women, were acquitted for lack of evidence, he said.

Since the end of last week, the M23 (March 23 movement) have taken several towns on the northern front of the conflict.

Their gains include the strategic town of Kanyabayonga, which is seen as a gateway to the major commercial centres of Butembo and Beni.

The M23 have also seized vast swathes of territory over the past several years, almost completely encircling Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, killing scores of people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.

There are already 2.8 million displaced people in North Kivu, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebel group, which Kigali denies.

DR Congo’s mineral-rich east has been racked for 30 years by fighting between both local and foreign-based armed groups, going back to regional wars of the 1990s.

Last March, the Congolese government lifted the moratorium on the death penalty which had been in force since 2003 in the country.

The measure targeted in particular soldiers accused of treason, at a time when the east of the country is in the grip of an armed rebellion.

In early May, eight Congolese soldiers, including five officers, were sentenced to death in Goma for “cowardice” and “fleeing the enemy”.

 

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