At least 25 people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled east, local officials said Friday, blaming the attack on the notorious ADF militia which has slaughtered hundreds of civilians over the past year.
The army was chasing ADF fighters on Thursday when they found the bodies of 25 civilians, who had been “taken by surprise in their fields on New Year’s Eve,” Donat Kibuana, the administrator of Beni territory in North Kivu province, told AFP.
The massacre took place in the village of Tingwe, about eight kilometres (five miles) from the town of Eringeti.
The head of the civil society organisation in Tingwe, Bravo Mohindo Vukulu, put the death toll at “at least 30”.
“People had gone to their fields to prepare for New Year’s Eve, the ADF picked them up one by one,” he said.
“We had alerted our forces that the ADF had passed through from the east to the northeast of Eringeti,” he said, but added, “they did not react quickly.”
The ADF, which originated in the 1990s as a Ugandan Muslim rebel group, is one of the dozens of militias that plague the eastern provinces of the vast country.
It is blamed for the deaths of around 800 civilians over the past year in North Kivu province, which borders Uganda.
The group makes money notably through wood trafficking and DR Congo officials suspect some military are complicit in its violent raids.
The ADF has never claimed responsibility for attacks. But since April 2019, several of its assaults have been claimed by the so-called Islamic State’s Central Africa Province, without providing proof.
The United Nations said in July the group’s attacks could constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.
A December 23 mid-term report by a group of UN experts which addressed the security situation in the region “characterized by pockets of intense violence.”
– Upsurge in violence –
The report found that in North Kivu, the armed forces “scattered the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) into several mobile groups and extended the ADF area of operations.”
On October 30, 2019, the army launched a large-scale operation against ADF strongholds, saying they had “neutralised” five of the groups’s leaders.
But that did not prevent an upsurge in violence in the first half of 2020 with UN data showing 1,315 deaths compared with 416 for the first half of the previous year.
“While supply chains were disrupted, ADF continued to attack (the armed forces) and civilians. ADF demonstrated improved knowledge of improvised explosive device construction techniques,” the UN report found.
But the report was unable to establish a direct link to the Islamic State group.
ADF attacks since November have shifted from the far north of the country southeastwards towards Mutwanga on the fringe of the Rwenzori Mountains to threaten the regional bioversity jewel and tourist attraction of Virunga National Park.
Three civilians and a soldier were killed in the most recent attack in the area on Tuesday night.