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DRC: At least 19 civilians killed in clashes between the army and M23 rebels in Mweso, North Kivu

On Thursday, January 25th, the town of Mweso in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province was at the centre of violent clashes between the Congolese army and M23 rebels. At least 19 civilians were killed, and up to 27 injured, depending on whose account you read. By the evening, most of the town’s population was sheltering in the Mweso General Hospital.

M23, one of around 120 groups active in eastern Congo, has been fighting for over a decade and claims to defend Tutsi interests against ethnic Hutu militias. It takes its name from a March 23, 2009, peace deal it accuses the government of failing to implement. UN experts claim Rwandan military members are arming the rebels, and warned attacks by M23 fighters were becoming more frequent as the group increases the territory under its control.

The Congolese government claims the rebels attacked Mweso with mortar shells, while M23 claims to have been protecting the town against Congolese drones and artillery.

Since 2010, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has recorded 46 incidents of explosive weapons use in the DRC, 37 of which have caused 464 civilian casualties, including 159 civilian fatalities.

57% (26) of incidents have been attributed to non-state actors, as have 51% (244) of civilian casualties, and 52% (83) of civilian fatalities. While 10 of the 26 attacks, and 119 of the 236 civilian casualties attributed to non-state actors were perpetrated by unknown actors, M23 rebels are the reported perpetrators of 10 incidents, resulting in 49 civilian casualties. They are second to Islamic State, which caused 61 civilian casualties across two attacks.

4 incidents are attributed to state actors, in particular two to the DRC (34 civilian casualties), one to Rwanda (3 civilian casualties), and one to Uganda (no reported civilian casualties).

Ground-launched weapons have caused the majority, 59% (272), of civilian casualties, specifically shelling (86 civilian casualties), grenades (80), mortars (66), artillery shelling (28), and rockets (12). The use of IEDs resulted in 35% (162) of civilian casualties, while air-launched weapons, specifically an air-dropped bomb, caused 6% (30) of civilian casualties. IEDs have been the most injurious explosive weapon in the DRC since AOAV started recording in 2010, killing and injuring on average 13.5 civilians per attack.

AOAV’s casualty figures represent the lowest of estimations in terms of the number of people killed and injured by explosive weapon use. In an effort to quantify the explicit harm caused by specific explosive weapons, AOAV solely records incident-specific casualty figures, as reported in English-language media.

AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. All actors should stop using explosive weapons with wide-area effects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.