By Erikas Mwisi Kambale
BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – More than 45 civilians were killed in a militia attack on a camp for displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri province early on Monday, the United Nations peacekeeping mission said.
The Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) group, one of many militias operating in the conflict-ridden east, was responsible for the killings at the “LALA” camp, the mission, known as MONUSCO, said in a statement.
CODECO claims to defend the interests of Lendu farmers, who have long conflicted with Hema herders. Its fighters have killed hundreds of civilians in Ituri province and forced thousands to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Over 45 people were killed and at least 10 wounded in the attack, MONUSCO said, adding that it had liaised with provincial authorities to reinforce security in the area.
The U.N. refugee agency said armed assailants killed people, including women and children, with guns and machetes. At least 12 people were burned alive after their shelters were set on fire, it added.
Ituri army spokesman Jules Ngongo Tshikudi described the attack as an “act of sabotage” against attempts to restore peace and said investigations were underway.
Jean Richard Lenga, chief of Bahema Badjere district, said militiamen massacred 46 people with knives and firearms and burnt others in their homes in the middle of the camp.
“The whole village is in mourning now,” he said, adding that the authorities were still searching for bodies.
Many people have fled to the nearby town of Bule, seeking safety, Lenga said.
Around 70,000 displaced people arrived in Bule between April 15 and May 15 due to armed violence in the surrounding areas, the U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) said in its latest report.
Ituri hosts about 1.7 million internally displaced people in total, it said.
A civil rights group head, Charite Banza, said the attack happened a few days after a dialogue between armed groups in Ituri.
“We don’t have security here, we say it every day,” Banza said. The victims’ bodies would be buried in a mass grave, he said.
CODECO has frequently targeted displacement camps. It killed about 60 people at another camp near Bule last year, in one of its deadliest massacres.