The attack reportedly took place early on Monday morning in the village of Kachele, about 100km (60 miles) from the regional capital Bunia, said Isabelle Abric, a spokeswoman for the MONUC force, charged with keeping the peace in the capital of the Ituri region in the DRC.

 

Later reports have suggested the figure could be even higher. It is the first reported massacre since international peacekeepers began patrolling the troubled northeast Ituri region last month.

 

The area was the scene of fierce fighting between the Lendu and Hema militias in July and August. Thousands of civilians fled the clashes.

 

“Members of MONUC who went to the area saw 23 bodies, but according to other eyewitness accounts, at least 32 other bodies had already been buried,” Abric said.

 

Abric said the victims were “mostly children, pregnant women or older people killed with machetes or shot.”

 

Inter-ethnic conflict

 

UN forces began patrolling the region - wracked by an inter-ethnic battle between the minority Hema and majority Lendu militias that has claimed the lives of more than 50,000 in four years - after taking over from a UN-mandated European Union peacekeeping force in early September.

 

Region has seen frequent clashes
between different armed groups

The area around Bunia is the main remaining trouble spot in the DRC, where a peace deal was signed in April to end a five-year civil war that claimed about 2.5 million lives.

 

Arbic declined to say which ethnic tribe the victims belonged to or who could have been responsible for the killing.

 

On 1 October, a Pakistani contingency completed its deployment in Bunia, bringing the number of UN peacekeeping troops in the region to just under 3400.

 

Regional involvement

 

Congo was thrown into civil war in 1998. As many as nine different states got involved in what was little more than a thinly disguised grab at the country’s vast mineral wealth.

 

Arguably all the countries involved in the war, which displaced as many as five million people, played on ethnic divisions within the country to further their own causes.

 

The fact that societal discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is widely practised by members of virtually all ethnic groups in the Congo, made divisions easy to exploit.