At least 40 people were killed when machete-wielding militiamen attacked a site for displaced people in strife-torn eastern DR Congo, a monitoring group and local sources said Wednesday.
“At least 40 civilians were killed with edged weapons last night in Plaine Savo” in Djugu territory, the US-based Kivu Security Tracker (KST) said on Twitter.
Local officials and civil society sources put the toll at more than 50 dead, while the army’s spokesman in Ituri province, Lieutenant Jules Ngongo, gave provisional figures of 21 dead.
The KST said the suspected attackers were from a notorious armed group called CODECO, blamed for a string of ethnic massacres in the area.
The Djugu area, bordering Lake Albert and Uganda which lie to the east, is the theatre for a bloody, long-running feud between the Lendu and Hema communities.
Fighting between the two groups flared between 1999 and 2003, claiming tens of thousands of lives before being quelled by a European Union peacekeeping force, Artemis.
Violence then resumed in 2017, blamed on the emergence of CODECO — the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) — which claims to defend the Lendu.
Since then, CODECO attacks have caused hundreds of deaths and prompted more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes, while half of the region’s population faces food insecurity, says the Danish Refugee Council.
Attacks on camps for displaced people over an eight-day period in November-December left 123 dead, according to the KST.
Jean Richard Dhedda Lenga, the senior administrator in Bahema Badjere district, said CODECO raiders attacked the site “at around 9pm, 10pm” on Tuesday.
“We have a provisional total of 59 dead” and around 40 wounded,” he told AFP by phone.
“I have just left the area — young people are looking for other bodies in huts and in the bush.”
Desire Malo Dra, a representative of civil society groups in Bahema Badjere, said most of the casualties were women and children.
“I have counted 53 bodies, others are coming in. They are all being gathered here where I am,” he said.
“The militiamen came armed with machetes. Many victims had their throats cut,” he said.
He added the assailants “carried out their work calmly”, and the army arrived hours later, on Wednesday morning.
Ituri and neighboring North Kivu province were placed last year under a “state of siege”, a measure giving exceptional powers to the army and police.
In addition to attacks by CODECO, the region is struggling to stem the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the most brutal of an estimated 122 armed groups that roam eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.