By NICK LONG
GOMA, Congo (AP) _ The M23 rebel group in eastern Congo continues to receive significant support from neighboring Rwanda despite ongoing abuses including killings, rape and forced recruitment of children, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.
The report released Monday said the group has summarily executed at least 44 people and raped at least 61 women and girls since March.
M23 rebels killed 15 civilians on April 25-26 and at least another six in mid-June as payback for suspected collaboration with Congolese militias, Human Rights Watch said. Other civilians allegedly killed by M23 fighters in recent months include a man shot dead for refusing to hand his sons over to the movement, a motorcycle driver who refused to give them money and recruits caught after trying to escape.
The abuses have continued in recent weeks, the rights group said. Earlier this month, four M23 fighters gang-raped a 12-year-old girl out fetching water.
United Nations experts and other observers have long accused Rwanda of backing the rebels, something the government of President Paul Kagame has consistently denied.
A United Nations expert panel reported in June that Rwanda’s support for M23 had declined in recent months, but HRW said the group still received training and supplies and was able to recruit in Rwanda.
“It does appear the support is more limited than it was last year, but what we have documented in terms of support is still quite significant,” said HRW researcher and report author Ida Sawyer.
The M23 rebellion was launched in April 2012 by a group of Congolese army mutineers who claimed a March 23, 2009 agreement to integrate them into the army had not been respected by the government.
The group seized control of the strategic city of Goma on the border with Rwanda last November but withdrew in exchange for a promise of peace talks which have repeatedly stalled.
M23 spokesman Kabasha Amani dismissed HRW as a “very partisan” organization on Tuesday.
“It’s not a report, these are just rumors,” Amani said. “We have grown used to this. It isn’t the first time they’ve said these things.”
The report comes amid fresh rounds of fighting between M23 and Congo‘s army, including clashes 14 miles north of Goma on Monday.
Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.