Dozens of civilians have been killed as suspected armed groups raided villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to local advocates and news reports.
The attacks took place on Friday in the province of Ituri, an area along the country’s northeast border with Uganda that has regularly experienced systematic attacks on communities since 2017.
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Charite Banza, the head of local civil society, told the Reuters news agency that Friday’s attack killed about 30 people, “both women and men”.
“They set fire to several houses, looted property,” Banza explained.
Other sources told the AFP news agency that the death toll exceeded 40. A regional administrator named Innocent Matukadala told the news outlet that 36 bodies were found in the town of Kilo Etat, plus another eight in Matete and more in Itendy.
Robert Basiloko, another civil society leader from the area, told AFP he estimated 43 were killed, including five children. “Every day there are deaths,” he said. “We’re tired of it.”
Sources quoted in both Reuters and AFP identified a group of militias called the Cooperative for Development of the Congo, or CODECO, as the suspected culprit in the attacks.
The United Nations reports that violence and insecurity have caused an estimated 1.5 million people to be displaced in Ituri over the past six years.
The conflict stems in part from ongoing tensions between the Lendu and Hema ethnic groups, as well as from the desire to control Ituri’s natural resources, which include gold and oil deposits. The conflict stretches back decades, with violence becoming particularly intense in the 1990s and 2000s.
Since the violence spiked again in December 2017, attacks on civilians have become a near-daily occurrence, according to the UN. Spokesperson Eujin Byun issued a statement on January 24 that its refugee agency, the UNHCR, “is deeply concerned by the escalation of brutal attacks on civilians”.
“More than 200 civilians have been killed in the last six weeks in Ituri in a series of attacks by non-state armed groups, which also destroyed 2,000 houses and closed or demolished 80 schools,” Byun said at the time.
In 2021, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a “state of siege” for both Ituri and the neighbouring province of North Kivu.
The country has the largest population of internally displaced people on the African continent, with the UN estimating that at least 5.6 million have fled their homes.
The attacks have spilt over from villages to shelters housing the internally displaced, according to the UN. The Plaine Savo camp has been repeatedly attacked by armed groups, including those affiliated with CODECO, leaving families dead and shelters burned to the ground.