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In Kanyabayonga, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Innocent Kasereka describes his brutal attack at the hands of M23 rebels, leaving him wounded and traumatised. The conflict between the Congolese armed forces and the M23 rebels has been ongoing, with violence escalating since late 2021. Kasereka was attacked at a coffee plantation seized by the M23 and the Rwandan army in the town of Kibirizi. Despite assurances of safety from the rebels, he was assaulted by individuals in M23 uniform, leading to injuries and the death of his friend Germain.

The Congolese army, supported by armed groups called Wazalendo, launched an offensive to retake Kibirizi from the M23, resulting in intense fighting and collateral damage to civilians. However, the army failed to reclaim the town, leaving its residents vulnerable to attacks by the M23. Accusations of collaboration with the Wazalendo led to violent incidents like the one experienced by Kasereka and Germain. The United Nations later confirmed that the M23 was responsible for a massacre in another town near Kibirizi, where over 100 people were killed for similar reasons.

Kasereka is currently recovering in a hospital in Kanyabayonga, with an injured fighter named Germain beside him. Germain, part of the FPP/AP armed group within the Wazalendo, sustained injuries during the failed attempt to regain control of Kibirizi. The Wazalendo and the Congolese army have faced repeated setbacks against the M23 forces, with little success in their operations. Lack of resources, demoralisation among soldiers, and accusations of army misconduct have hindered their progress in the conflict.

The Wazalendo spokesperson, Augustin Darwin, expressed distrust in the Congolese army due to past failures to uphold agreements with armed groups. The lack of proper equipment, rations, and morale among the soldiers has hampered their ability to combat the advancing M23 rebels. Displaced people seeking refuge in Kanyabayonga fear further violence and bombings in the area, with reports of mortar shells landing near the town. Allegations of army officers aiding rebels have raised concerns about collusion and impunity within the military ranks.

A new offensive has been launched in Kibirizi, with an influx of Congolese soldiers arriving in the town. Civil society leaders warn of potential clashes between the Wazalendo and the FARDC if the army retreats again, prompting local residents to consider taking up arms for self-defense. The cycle of violence, displacement, and insecurity continues to plague the region, highlighting the complex and volatile situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Efforts to address impunity, improve military accountability, and protect civilians remain crucial in restoring stability and peace to the conflict-affected areas.

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