Suspected CODECO militants killed at least 24 civilians over the weekend in several villages of eastern DR Congo’s troubled Ituri province, local civilian sources said Monday.
The attack occurred early Sunday afternoon in Djugu territory, according to Charite Banza, a civil society leader in the area.
He said CODECO fighters torched houses in three separate villages and killed 24 people, updating an earlier toll of 16 dead after more bodies were discovered.
“We found more bodies in Jisa, Largu and Blukwa,” in the north of the territory, Banza explained. “Other villages remain inaccessible,” he said, and the toll could go up again. “It’s terrible … we are dying like animals.”
Many people had fled from their homes, Banza said.
A humanitarian worker in the area, who declined to be named, had also earlier said 16 bodies had been discovered in the wake of the raids.
However, the Congolese army spokesman in Ituri, Lieutenant Jules Ngongo, reported that four civilians had been killed in Sunday’s raids, as well as one soldier and two militants.
AFP was unable to independently confirm the death toll.
Local human rights activist Desire Mbutchu told AFP that CODECO fighters launched the attack on the rival Zaire militia on Sunday, allegedly in revenge for the killing of a teacher from the Lendu community.
The Lendu and Hema communities have a long-standing feud that led to thousands of deaths between 1999 and 2003 before an intervention by a European peacekeeping force.
Violence resumed in 2017, blamed on the emergence of the CODECO militia, which claims to represent the Lendu.
The Zaire militia says it represents the Hema community.
“We ask the Zaire group to stop the provocations, CODECO militiamen to respect the Nairobi peace process and the authorities to post soldiers in Hema and Lendu villages” to protect people, Mbutchu told AFP.
Representatives of CODECO (Cooperative for the Development of the Congo) attended recent peace talks in Kenya with several dozen armed groups operating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Zaire militia members declined an invitation to participate.