A court in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has sentenced seven soldiers to death for cowardice in the face of the enemy and murder.
The seven were found to have fled advancing M23 rebels, retreating through the town of Sake where they caused the death of two people by recklessly discharging their arms.
The convicted soldiers’ lawyers have however laid out an elaborate plan to appeal the sentence.
Last November, three other soldiers were convicted of cowardice and sentenced to death. In the war-torn country, death sentences are commuted to life imprisonment.
Fighting in the mineral-rich North Kivu province has intensified, driving tens of thousands from their homes, despite a passionate appeal by Pope Francis to end conflicts when he visited the country last week.
“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa, it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” Pope Francis said at a Mass in the capital Kinshasa, estimated to have been attended by a million people.
DR Congo has been beset by conflicts since its independence in the 1960s. Some have been driven by the fight to control its mineral wealth, others by ethnic rivalry.
There’s been public anger against the UN and the East African regional force for failing to stop M23 rebels from capturing large swathes of territory in North Kivu.
DR Congo, the US and UN experts accuse neighbouring Rwanda of backing the rebels – a claim the tiny neighbor denies.
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