At least 20 people were killed in Ituri province (located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the weekend according to local officials. The attack occurred at 1am on Sunday local time. The officials claimed that the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) was responsible for the massacre, an armed group in the Ituri region whose members are mainly drawn from the Lendu ethnic group.
The Lendu are predominantly farmers, and have clashed repeatedly with the Hema community which is comprised mainly of traders and herders. CODECO has been accused of the murder of hundreds of civilians this year.
“The victims are of all ages, children, youths, women and old men, killed by machete, by knife or by firearm,” Pilo Mulindro, a community leader told AFP news agency.
“They cut with the machetes several of my compatriots, 20 have already died and more than 14 [are] seriously injured,” said Solo Bukutupa, a local administrator. “It’s unbearable to see people die like that.”
The attackers fled after United Nations peacekeepers arrived at the village and the militia later opened fire on a nearby UN base, according to a UN source. Two UN battalions are posted in the Ituri province to assist DRC armed forces, with additional support provided by Uruguayan special forces troops, the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO said in late April.
Ituri is rich in natural resources, including gold, diamonds and coltan, and was the site of some of the country’s worst fighting between 1999 and 2007, after a power struggle between rebel groups descended into ethnic violence – much of it between the Hema and Lendu.
Late last year the army launched a large-scale operation against militias operating in the area, prompting a backlash by the armed groups that has mostly affected civilian populations. The unrest has since evolved into more coordinated attacks by the Lendu community on the army and the Hema ethnic group. According to the UNHCR, as of early May the toll so far this year was at least 274 people killed, and approximately 200,000 others have been forcibly displaced by the violence.
Based on several fact-finding missions, a report published in January of this year by the UN’s joint Human Rights Office found that at least 701 people have been killed since December 2017 by perpetrators drawn largely from the region’s Lendu community. Most of the victims were ethnic Hema.
Investigators did not find sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Lendu militias intended to destroy the Hema as an ethnic group, but said some elements of the ongoing violence could constitute genocide.