DRC soldiers sentenced to death for fleeing war

Congo soldiers

A group of Congolese soldiers accused of fleeing combat against M23 rebels, take part in their trial, in Lubero, Democratic Republic of Congo July 5, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

What you need to know:

  • The ruling follows the sentencing of 25 soldiers to death on Thursday.
  • Congo's army has been fighting M23 rebels for more than two years.

Two more solders have been sentenced to death in the Democratic Republic of Congo after they fled battles in conflict-torn North Kivu province, a military court said on Friday.

Congo's army has been fighting the Rwanda-backed M23 insurgency for more than two years, as well as battling other militias in its eastern borderlands. The rebels seized the strategically important commune of Kanyabayonga last week.

The ruling, which follows the sentencing of 25 soldiers to death on Thursday, underscores the authorities' wish to show it will not tolerate the desertions that have contributed to putting Congo on the back foot in the conflict.

"This trial has a dissuasive and pedagogical character whose mission is to make soldiers see that fleeing the battle lines does not protect them, but it does expose them to heavy sanctions," state magistrate Kahambu Muhasa Melissa told Reuters.

The military tribunal said on Friday that one of the soldiers, Kakule Mupasula Raphael, had abandoned the front line in Kanyabayonga and fled. He was also found guilty of murdering the child of an officer.

He has pleaded not guilty and denied killing the child. He said he was not alone in leaving the front line.

"There were a lot of us soldiers who fled Kanyabayonga... even our commanders fled too," he told Reuters. He plans to appeal the sentence.

A second soldier was accused of firing shots at an ambulance whose driver refused to take him in as the soldier was trying to leave the battlefield. He pleaded guilty and asked for extenuating circumstances to be taken into account.

Congo lifted an over 20-year moratorium on the death penalty in February for crimes including desertion and treason.

"With an inefficient and ineffective justice system... the government's appalling move means many innocent people are now at risk of execution," Amnesty International warned.