Militia fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Beni region have killed at least 38 people – the deadliest in a string of similarly bloody attacks that have caused widespread outrage and mass protests in the Ebola-hit area.
Almost 300 people have been killed – most of them women and children – in Beni over the past 12 weeks, and thousands more have been displaced by the attacks, which have been blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militant group.
Local authorities told AFP victims of the Tuesday raid had been hacked to death, while two survivors were taken to a local hospital with skull fractures.
The recent killings have sparked protests against local authorities, and put pressure on the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Congo – known by its French acronym MONUSCO – which has hundreds of troops stationed in Beni, and 16,000 across the country.
The protests and insecurity also forced the suspension of Ebola relief efforts late last year – just as responders have been trying to stamp out the virus that has killed over 2,200 people and infected more than 3,400. New cases were reported in Beni this week.
On a visit to Beni earlier this month, The New Humanitarian found dozens of abandoned villages, and spoke to residents who described a state of near-constant fear. Many said they do not know who is behind the violence and what the objective is.
The killings began around November, shortly after the Congolese army launched military operations against the ADF – a Ugandan Islamist group that made its way to eastern Congo in the mid-1990s.
According to the Kivu Security Tracker, which maps violence in the east, the death toll is the highest residents in Beni have faced since a series of similarly gruesome attacks – also blamed on the ADF– left hundreds dead in 2014.
Research from the New York-based Congo Research Group suggests the militants have become steadily more radical in recent years – with some reports claiming they have received cash from a financial facilitator working for the so-called Islamic State group.
But researchers say the ADF is primarily a local armed group with close links to other Congo-based militias, communities, and army officials –who have supplied the group with ammunition, food, and uniforms, and even recruited participants to fight alongside them.
The latest massacre comes a week after Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi celebrated the anniversary of his first year in office.