At least a dozen people have died after armed rebels attack displaced civilians in the northeastern Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a military spokesperson.
Jules Ngongo, a spokesperson for Ituri’s military government, told the Reuters news agency that suspected fighters from the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) group raided the host village of Drodro on Sunday night, killing six children, four men and two women.
Local reports however allege that the death toll was higher.
Attacks by CODECO have killed hundreds of civilians in Ituri province’s Djugu territory since 2017 and forced thousands to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
CODECO’s fighters are drawn mainly from the Lendu farming community, which has long been in conflict with Hema herders.
“Their objective was to attack the population that was displaced in Drodro,” Ngongo said.
Ngabu Lidja Chrysante, a priest and coordinator for the Catholic charity Caritas in Ituri, said his colleagues on the ground had seen the bodies of 35 people killed in the attack, which also targeted the local church.
According to the US-based Kivu Security Tracker, which maps violent incidences in DRC, 107 bodies had been found in Drodro and surrounding villages.
“The vast majority of the dead are civilians,” the group said.
Mathias Gilman, the spokesperson for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, said at least 16,000 people fleeing the attacks had taken shelter at a nearby site protected by peacekeepers.
CODECO spokesperson Patrick Basa denied the group had killed civilians. He told Reuters that its fighters had clashed in Drodro with a Hema militia but said the civilians had already fled the area.
The conflict between the Lendu and Hema communities from 1999 to 2007 resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths in one of the bloodiest chapters of a civil war in eastern DRC.
Neighbouring North Kivu and Ituri provinces have been under a state of siege since May 6, an exceptional measure to combat armed groups like the CODECO – as well as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – with civilian authorities have been replaced by military and police officers.