Findings of a field investigation by two journalists Adeline Umutoni and Marc Hoogsteyns, and a lawyer Gatete Nyiringabo, who went to the frontlines in North Kivu province in eastern DR Congo, indicate that the alleged “Kishishe massacre” in November 2022 was exaggerated. Congolese officials initially said the death toll, blamed on the M23 rebels, was 50 but they later raised it to 109 and then to around 300. The investigators’ Kishishe Report of December 30, seen by The New Times, shows that 8 civilians were killed, and there were no women or child victims. ALSO READ: M23 rebels withdraw from Rumangabo military base The United Nations mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) said the death toll from Kishishe was 131. Appearing on the national broadcaster RBA on Sunday, January 8, Nyiringabo, said that MONUSCO and the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) admitted they did not visit the scene of the alleged killings, citing security concerns. What really happened in Kishishe? On November 21, 2022 the M23 rebels took control of Bambo, a small town in North Kivu, after fighting with the Congolese army coalition, made up of government forces and militias like FDLR, Nyatura and Mai Mai. The coalition fled to Kishishe village – five kilometres from Bambo – and fighting resumed the next day. One civilian, a woman from Bambo, was killed. A week later, on November 28, Mai Mai fighters laid an ambush in Kishishe and residents fled, in anticipation of the imminent fighting. On November 29, the M23 combatants returned to Kishishe to face the Mai Mai. After an hour’s battle, the M23 called out Kishishe residents for a body count. They found 19 people were killed. Eight of the victims were civilians, who, according to M23, were killed by stray bullets. The remaining 11 were combatants of the government coalition. Discrepancies in figures Following the incident, on December 1, the spokesperson of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC), Maj Gen Sylvain Ekenge – echoing Kinshasa's accusation that Kigali supports the M23 – said the Rwandan army killed 50 civilians in Kishishe. ALSO READ: Govt: Blaming the Congolese crisis on Rwanda is a distraction On December 2, a cabinet meeting in Kinshasa raised the death toll to 109 and declared three days of national mourning. On December 4, the M23 released a statement saying the death toll was eight civilians and provided their names. https://twitter.com/M23_ARC/status/1599413335107153920?t=AtBlgroMKeQgYUrbxbUqlg&s=19 On December 5, the Congolese Minister of Industry, Julien Paluku, said at a press conference, co-hosted by government spokesperson, Patrick Muyaya, that the number of victims in Kishishe was 272. On December 7, MONUSCO said a preliminary investigation had found that 131 civilians, including women and children, were killed by M23 in Kishishe and Bambo. In their report, Nyiringabo, Hoogsteyns and Umutoni say residents told them that no women or children were killed in Kishishe. No kidnaps, rape or other forms of sexual violence were reported. “On their part, the residents are not sure whether [the 11] victims were militia combatants or civilians, although they acknowledge that they were not residents of Kishishe or Bambo,” the report says. What is the motive behind Kishishe allegations? Kinshasa’s allegations came after the UN special advisor, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, had warned of genocide in eastern DR Congo, in a statement of November 30. Nyiringabo said that after their field investigation, they concluded that the highly publicised Kishishe massacre was a fabrication by the Congolese government, meant to whitewash the findings of Nderitu’s office, especially violence targeted at Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese communities. For Tom Ndahiro, a genocide scholar, the discrepancy in numbers and the hasty conclusion by the Congolese government are part of sinister plan. ALSO READ: Congolese refugees protest over genocide in homeland “Masterminds of genocide employ what is called ‘accusation in mirror.’ What the Congolese government plans to do blames it on the M23. They plan killings and find something to accuse the M23,” Ndahiro said. Olivier Mukama, a lawyer who was until recently based in Kinshasa, said the alleged Kishishe massacre was part of propaganda aimed at gaining support of the international community in the ongoing conflict. “For the Congolese politicians or military leaders, fabricating numbers is a normal thing. On the Kishishe incident, for example, if the officials had been promised $10 million to file a report, Ekenge himself would have gone to the scene, with a delegation of 100 or 200 people. Except for money matters, otherwise they live in a virtual world,” Mukama said.