AFP/Goma, DR Congo
At least 30 civilians have been killed in an area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that has been shaken by violence since 2014, the army said Sunday.
Suspected rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a partly Islamist armed group of Ugandan origin, killed ‘about 30 people’ in the town of Beni on Saturday night, army spokesman Mak Hazukay told AFP.
‘We have just found their bodies.’
The victims were found in the Rwangoma neighbourhood on the outskirts of Beni, Hazukay said, adding: ‘The search for the bodies continues.’
He said ADF rebels had ‘bypassed’ army positions ‘to come and massacre the population in revenge’ for military operations in the area.
Gilbert Kambale, a local civil society leader, said the attack took place between 7.00 pm and 11.00 pm on Saturday evening and that there were ‘already 35 bodies’ in the morgue at Beni hospital.
The latest bloodshed provoked an angry protest, bringing around a hundred people onto the streets shouting anti-government slogans and demanding security.
The slaughter took place three days after DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila visited the region, promising to do everything in his power to bring peace and security.
Beni lies in North Kivu, a province that has seen a long spate of attacks that the government and United Nations blame on the ADF.
The Beni area in particular has seen numerous massacres since October 2014 that have in total left more than 600 civilians dead.
- 'Slaughter us like goats' -
During the day, around a hundred angry protesters carrying the body of one of the victims gathered in the town, shouting angry slogans against Kabila and his government, witnesses said.
Local human rights activists Jackson Kasereka said residents in the north of the town were ‘burning tyres’ in the streets in protest over the killings and in anger at the authorities.
‘The police have just taken the body off us but we will continue to protest. It's not normal that they slaughter us like goats,’ said demonstrator Georges Kamate, who drives a motorbike taxi.
‘Our government is incapable of keeping us safe!’ shouted another demonstrator.
Kambale said there was a lot of anger over the government's apparent inability to restore security to the area.
‘It's worrying because the president of the republic came here and then we were massacred,’ he said.
‘There is a blatant lack of security, (the authorities) are not capable of keeping the population safe, that is why these people have come into the street,’ he explained.
Contacted by AFP, Beni mayor Edmond Masumbuko had no immediate comment, saying he was tied up ‘in a security meeting’.
- Copious rights abuses -
Beni and the surrounding area have been badly hit by violence over the past two years, suffering a series of massacres which the Congolese government and the UN's mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, have blamed on the ADF.
But in March, that allegation was recently questioned in a report published by the Congro Research Group at New York University which looked into the massacres around Beni, and claimed that soldiers from the regular army had also participated in the killings.
The government rejected the claims and said the ADF was ‘definitely’ responsible for the massacres.
ADF rebels, who oppose Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, have been present in eastern DRC for more than 20 years.
The group has been accused of copious human rights abuses and is thought to be deeply embroiled in criminal networks funded by kidnappings, smuggling and logging.
Dozens of armed groups are active in North Kivu, where government troops have also been accused of preying on the civilian population.
Despite efforts by the international community and the Congolese authorities, the region has remained mired in violence since the end of the second Congolese war (1998-2003).
On August 8, 11 Congolese soldiers and a UN peacekeeper were wounded in the Beni area during a confrontation with ADF forces, MONUSCO said.
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