By Biodun Busari

A United Nations investigation has disclosed that at least 131 civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo were killed by M23 rebel group in November.

According to the world governing body’s report, the massacre went down in two villages – Kishishe and Bambo – in the Rutsuhuru district of the eastern North Kivu province.

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BBC reported investigators said the attack seemed to be a reprisal for a current government offensive on the rebels.

M23, however, denied the carnage, blaming “stray bullets” for just eight deaths.

But the UN’s Monusco peacekeeping mission in the country said 102 men, 17 women and 12 children were “arbitrarily executed” by the rebel group “as part of reprisals against the civilian population”.

It said no fewer than 22 women and five girls were also raped in gruesome attacks on Congolese people.

“This violence was carried out as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings and looting against two villages in the Rutshuru territory as reprisals for the clashes between the M23” and other armed groups, including the FDLR, the statement said, adding that the true number of people killed could be even higher.

It also said that M23 fighters then buried the bodies of the victims in “what may be an attempt to destroy evidence”.

The government had initially said that over 300 civilians were killed in the attack, which took place between 29 and 30 November.

The government’s spokesperson, Patrick Muyaya accepted on Monday that it was difficult to reach a firm figure as the region was under M23 occupation.

Congolese authorities have described the killings as war crimes and called for deeper investigation, while protests have been organised in the capital, Kinshasa and Goma, the main city in North Kivu.

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