Scores of civilians were killed in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last Saturday, August 13th when an unidentified group attacked a village near Beni town in North Kivu.
The Governor of the North Kivu province, Julien Paluku, confirmed in a statement that at least 22 men and 14 women were hacked to death with machetes in their homes and in fields near the Rwangoma village on the outskirts of the commercial hub Beni, in what many are describing as a massacre.
The official death toll remains unverified, however, most sources report the number of dead to have reached 51. Nyonyi Bwanakawa, the mayor of Beni, informed Al Jazeera that DR Congo troops and local officials had recovered 64 bodies, although he expects the number may rise.
The official government narrative is that the attack was one of terrorism that was committed by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The ADF, a small insurgent force with ties to Al-Shabaab and the Lords Resistance Army, was formed in Uganda in opposition to the government but, has been operating in DRC’s North Kivu province since the 1990’s. The ADF is routinely implicated in perpetuating this kind of violence and have been accused of human rights abuses in the past.
Civilian witnesses told Al Jazeera that ADF rebels were seen emerging from the forest on Saturday: “there was some confusion, however, as some residents said that some of the men were wearing army uniforms.” A United Nations panel of experts, as well as other independent observers, have, in the past identified the ADF, as well as DRC national forces and other rebel groups as being responsible for similar attacks. Earlier this year, a report was published by the New York University’s Congo Research Group, which claims that government soldiers had previously participated in similar killings.
Those near Beni are no strangers to this kind of violence, as more than 600 civilians have been killed as a result of a number of massacres since October 2014, mostly in overnight raids.
In response to the violence, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called or increased ongoing cooperation between DRC authorities and The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Additionally, MONUSCO and DRC national forces were deployed to increase security in the region.
The attack follows current DRC President Joseph Kabila’s August 4th talks with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, at which the two leaders discussed a coordinated military strategy for dealing with ADF rebels. Shortly thereafter, on the 8th of August, eleven Congolese soldiers and a UN peacekeeper were wounded during clashes with ADF forces in the Beni area according to MONUSCO. DRC army spokesperson, Mak Hazukay, implied the raid was a revenge attack for increased army operations against the ADF. Furthermore, “the goal of the attack is to incite the population to rise up against us,” he told the AFP news agency.
Demonstrators have taken to the streets in Beni to protest the violence, some of whom were heard chanting anti-Kabila slogans, and others accusing the government of failing to keep them safe. “It’s worrying because the president of the republic came here and then we were massacred,” Gilbert Kambale, a local civil society leader told The Guardian. On Wednesday, a police officer and demonstrator was killed in clashes between protesters and security forces, during which tear gas and warning shots were deployed.
DR Congo is currently plagued by civil instability as the national election approaches. Kabila, who has served as president since 2001, following the assassination of his father, is pushing for a third presidential term, despite having already served the maximum two terms as permitted by the Congolese Constitution.
The DRC government has faced international criticism this week after preventing Ida Sawyer, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, from continuing her work in the country. “This is more than forcing [HRW] out of the Congo, but is a brazen attempt to muzzle reporting on the government’s brutal repression of those supporting presidential term limits,” Kenneth Roth, for HRW, wrote.
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