Rebels have killed at least 14 people, including children, in an overnight attack on a displaced persons camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the latest violence in the conflict-wracked region, the army and a civil society leader have said.
Army spokesman Jules Ngongo Tsikudi said on Tuesday that rebels raided a site outside the town of Fataki in Djugu region of eastern Ituri province where hundreds of civilians have sought refuge in recent months.
The attack in Djugu was also confirmed by the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a respected monitor of violence in the conflict-torn region.
Civil society leader Dieudonne Lossa gave a provisional death toll of 15 and blamed an armed group known as CODECO, accused of staging another attack on a nearby artisanal mining site on Sunday that killed at least 35.
CODECO – the name for the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo – is a political-religious sect that claims to represent the interests of the Lendu ethnic group.
It is considered one of the deadliest groups operating in the east of the country, blamed for a number of ethnic massacres.
The group is one of several armed groups, including ISIL (also known as ISIS), wrangling over land and resources in Congo’s mineral-rich east – a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions during the past decade.
Jules Tsuba, president of an association of civil society groups in Djugu, said most of the victims in Monday’s attack were children and stressed that the death toll was provisional.
“It’s shocking to see children chopped up by machetes,” he told the AFP news agency.
Photos seen by AFP showed children splayed on the ground, covered in blood.
CODECO is notorious for targeting civilians, killing 18 people at a church last month and another 60 at a displaced persons camp in February.
Termed a “state of siege” in DRC, the military- and police-led administrations of Ituri and North Kivu have come under criticism for their apparent ineffectiveness.
Security forces have governed the regions since May last year, hoping to curb attacks, but civilian massacres have continued.
The provinces are plagued by a growing number of attacks from various militias, including CODECO and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which ISIL describes as its local affiliate.
About 2,500 civilians were killed between May 2021 and April 2022, according to the KST.
President Felix Tshisekedi, under pressure from deputies from the provinces, has decided to review the effectiveness of the state of siege.
Amnesty International, in a report released on Tuesday, said the strategy had led to abuses rather than increased security.
“The military and police authorities have used their powers under the state of siege to crack down on anyone they deem critical, including members of parliament and human rights activists,” the rights group said.
“They continue to repress peaceful protests and throw activists in jail.”