More than 40 civilians were killed in a militia attack on a camp for displaced people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri province early on Monday, a local official and the head of a civil society group said.
They said the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) group, one of many militias operating in Congo’s conflict-ridden east, was responsible for the killings at the “LALA” camp.
CODECO claims to defend the interests of Lendu farmers, who have long been in conflict with Hema herders. Its fighters have killed hundreds of civilians in Ituri and forced thousands to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
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, it’s too sad,” he said, adding that the authorities were still searching for bodies.
Lenga said that the local population was dispersed as many people have fled to the nearby town of Bule, seeking safety.
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 province hosts about 1.7 million internally displaced people in total, it said.
A civil rights group head, Charite Banza, also put the toll at 46 dead, adding that the victims’ bodies would be buried in a mass grave.
“We don’t have security here, we say it every day,” Banza said, flagging that the attack happened a few days after a dialogue between armed groups in Ituri.
“No reason for the bloody attack has yet been given,” he added.
CODECO has frequently targeted displacement camps. It killed about 60 people at another camp near Bule last year, in one of its deadliest massacres.
Maki Lombe, a resident of the Bahema-Nord chiefdom, said he had seen “more than 40 bodies” lying on the ground. He survived by fleeing during the night, he said.