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EU sanctions Belgian gold trader, rebel chiefs, politicians, others over DRC conflict

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The European Union on Thursday, imposed stiff sanctions on a Belgian gold trader, rebel chiefs and some top Congolese army and political figures for their role in fuelling crisis and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

As part of a wide range of sanctions approved by the EU, eight people were also added to its list of sanctions over violence in the conflict-wracked eastern DRC region, while it also extended existing sanctions against nine others.

According to the Council of the EU said in a press statement, the 17 people are now subject to restrictive measures until December 2023, consisting of a travel ban and an asset freeze.

The eight newly listed individuals, the statement said, include five members of different armed groups namely the M23, ADF, CODECO, FDLR and Mai-Mai Yakatumba, a member of the Congolese army, a Congolese politician and the Belgian businessman who deals in gold trade.

The Antwerp-born businessman, Alain Goetz, was put on the asset freeze and visa ban blacklist for his role in the ongoing conflict in the DRC and profiting from gold mines controlled by militia groups in the South Kivu province.

“Most of them are responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses and for sustaining the armed conflict in the DRC. Others have been listed for inciting violence and exploiting the conflict through the illicit exploitation or trade of natural resources,” the EU statement said.

“Today’s decision was taken in the context of the EU’s integrated approach in support of the efforts by the DRC authorities to build a lasting peace and stabilise the Eastern part of the country.

“Goetz is therefore exploiting the armed conflict, instability and insecurity in the DRC through the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources,” the statement said.

Others in the sanction list include Willy Ngoma, the military spokesman for the M23 rebel group, rebel leader Protogene Ruvugayimikore of the FDLR-FOCA militia and Meddie Nkalubo, a commander in the ISIL (ISIS)-affiliated ADF.

High-ranking DRC army officer, Joseph Nganzo Olikwa Tipi is also on the blacklist for abuses committed by the 312th battalion he commanded, “in particular rapes of women between June and December 2021”, according to the EU, while Congolese politician, Justin Bitakwira, was put on the list for speeches inciting “violence” against the DRC’s Banyamulenge community.

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M23 rebels take control of Kitshanga in eastern DR Congo

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The M23 rebels have announced that its fighters have seized control of the strategic town of Kitshanga, in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after days of intense fighting.

The DRC military authorities also confirmed in a statement late on Friday that its forces have withdrawn from the town in a tactical move to protect civilians in the face of a renewed offensive by the rebel militia.

“We have tactically withdrawn from the city in order to attract these genocidal forces deep into the city and avoid the worst for our people in Kitshanga,” spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu, Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Ndjike, said in the statement.

“We are making every effort to dislodge this enemy,” he added.

Videos then emerged on social media showing the M23 fighters celebrating and claiming they had captured the town.

The M23 rebels said it took control of Kitshanga town on Thursday night after capturing several villages on the road linking the town of about 60,000 people to the provincial capital, Goma.

In an earlier statement, M23′s spokesman, Lawrence Kanyuka, has accused government troops of attacking civilians in Kitchanga and elsewhere, and said the rebel group was “obliged to intervene and stop another genocide”.

While condemning the recent development, the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO), said more than 500 people, including women and children, are seeking refuge at its base in the town of Kitshanga.

MONUSCO spokesperson, Ndeye Khady Lo, said civilians fleeing from Kitchanga have been given tents, food, water and first aid.

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237 African migrants rescued off Libyan coast

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Not less than 237 African migrants were on Friday, rescued after their makeshift boat capsized off the Libyan coast while navigating the dangerous Mediterranean Sea, on their way to Europe.

French medical charity, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which carried out the rescue mission, said the migrants were rescued by its chartered rescue vessel, Geo Barents, which was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, north of the country’s capital Tripoli, when it received a distress call.

“The Geo Barents ship encountered other overcrowded rubber dinghies with migrants attempting to reach Europe and took them on board,” the NGO said.

“Following instructions by the maritime rescue coordination centre, the ship then sailed towards the northern Italian port of La Spezia.l,” it added.

The MSF and other NGOs operating rescue vessels off Africa’s northern coast have accused the Italian government of deliberately assigning far away ports to discourage their operations, an accusation the Italian Interior Ministry had denied.

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