At least 30 people were killed in a weekend attack in the restive northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to local and UN sources.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group is suspected of carrying out the attack in the Ituri area on Saturday, they said on Monday.
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Dieudonne Malangayi, acting chairman of the chiefdom of Walese Vonkutu, initially said 14 people died in the attack but told AFP news agency on Monday that more bodies had since been discovered.
“The civilians who went to look for the bodies of the victims found 16 others in the bush, which makes 30 civilians massacred,” said Malangayi.
A UN source confirmed to AFP that at least 30 people had been killed in the attack.
One civilian who helped look for bodies said the victims had mostly been attacked with machetes or shot.
The ADF, which the United States has deemed a “terrorist group”, is considered the deadliest of many armed groups that roam the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo.
In August, the group burned and hacked to death at least 19 civilians in the Beni territory of North Kivu, according to local officials.
‘State of siege’
The Catholic Church in the country says the ADF has killed about 6,000 civilians since 2013, while a US-based monitor, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), blames it for more than 1,200 deaths in the Beni area alone since 2017.
Congolese authorities’ crackdown against ADF has included a “state of siege” that started in early May, in which top officials in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province have been replaced by members of the security forces who have been granted far-reaching powers.
Human rights organisations have warned against the misuse of “the state of siege”. “Emergency powers can lead to more human rights violations if abused,” Amnesty International said when “the state of siege” came into force in May.
Civil society activists have called for an end to the siege, saying “the rights of citizens are increasingly trampled on”.
In August, President Felix Tshisekedi authorised US special forces to help the Congolese army battle the ADF, which is believed to be linked to the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.
Since April 2019, ISIL has claimed responsibility for some of the ADF attacks and, in March this year, Washington placed the ADF on a list of “terrorist organisations” affiliated with ISIL.
United Nations experts, however, have said they have not found conclusive evidence that ISIL has control over ADF operations.