At least 34 civilians were killed Sunday in a flare up of ethnic violence in restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities said, following a week of soaring tensions.
“The provisional toll is 34 civilians killed,” said local official Joy Bokele, referring to an attack by a Nande ethnic militia on a displaced persons camp in the Hutu village of Luhanga.
“They started by attacking the FARDC (DR Congo military) position. While they were attacking the FARDC, another group was executing the population with bladed weapons or bullets,” Bokele said.
Bokele added that the attack was carried out by the Mai-Mai Mazembe, a Nande “self-defence” militia, and that one of the attackers was killed in the clashes.
Tensions between the Nande and Hutu peoples have been running high in the restive east, shaken by two decades of fighting over land, ethnic tensions and mineral riches.
The Nande accuse Congolese Hutus of abetting the FDLR Rwandan rebel group. The Hutus, in return, say they are looking for land where they can settle for farming and accuse the Nande of trying to expel them.
Sunday’s killings are the worst inter-communal violence in a year. Dozens of people have died since the start of the year in fighting between the Nande and the Hutus.
“If the army had not intervened, there would have been many more dead,” said a military source.
“The militia was searching for members of the Hutu community and wreaked carnage before burning down the village entirely,” said a local rights group, the Centre for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights (CEPADHO). “The attackers were there for more than an hour.”
‘Risk a purge’
The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or MONUSCO, said a peacekeeping force in the area had heard gunshots and were “quickly deployed and neutralised the attack”, killing one of the attackers, adding that 15 people had been wounded and now evacuated.
CEPADHO called on the government and MONUSCO to take urgent action to prevent further ethnic violence.
“The Mai-Mai Mazembe made threats against the Hutus during the week, demanding that they leave the area or risk a purge,” CEPADHO added in a statement.
North Kivu has been the scene of repeated clashes for nearly two decades, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.