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Grief and anger as Congo mourners blame Rwanda-backed rebels for attack

FAMILIES huddled near the line of small coffins in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, all mourning the children and others killed in a rocket attack, many shouting out accusations against the rebels they said launched the assault.

Relatives held up crosses daubed with the names of the dead and kept their angriest words for Rwanda, the country just over the border that they, their government and the U.N. say is backing the M23 insurgents – an accusation denied by Kigali.

At least five rockets hit camps that were sheltering displaced people around the city of Goma on May 3, killing mostly children and women.

A total of 22 children were buried on Wednesday, many in half-sized caskets or smaller, alongside the bodies of 13 other victims.

“My daughter-in-law was murdered in the Mugunga camp,” said Fikiri Mvano at the mass funeral at a cemetery in Kibati, north of the city.

“She was the victim of bombs dropped by Rwanda in support of the M23… She left us her children. She had nine, and three died with her.”

Rwanda has denied having any part in the attack, said it is being used as a scapegoat and suggested that militias loyal to Congo were involved. Rwanda’s government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Congo and the United States have said the attacks were launched from territory held by Rwandan troops and M23.

Relatives carry the coffin of their kin during the funeral of the nine victims, including seven children who were killed in a strike earlier this month at the Bulengo displaced persons camp (IDP), in Goma, North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Arlette Bashizi

The two-year conflict, the most sustained offensive by M23 since a 2012-2013 insurrection in which they seized Goma, has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes in a region that has had little respite since Rwanda and Uganda invaded almost three decades ago.

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M23’s name refers to the March 23 date of a 2009 accord that ended a previous Tutsi-led revolt in eastern Congo. The M23 accused the authorities of not living up to promises to fully integrate Congolese Tutsis into the army and government.

In recent months, fighting has again moved closer to Goma, a sprawling lakeside city of around two million people and a key humanitarian and logistical hub for the region.

Many now feel trapped there, said Jules Buturanye, a spokesman for the victims’ families who lost his sister in the rocket strikes.

“If the enemy reaches us in Goma, we have nowhere to go except to drown in the lake or flee to Rwanda to join the enemy,” he said.