Gunmen killed 11 people including military and local officials in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said Sunday, an ambush attributed to a militia accused of a string of massacres.
Two vehicles coming from Bunia, the capital of Ituri province, were attacked Saturday at the village of Matete, Djugu territory administrator Adel Alingi Mokuba said.
“The death toll is 11, including the deputy territorial administrator in charge of economy and finance, three policemen and four soldiers,” he told AFP.
The convoy was carrying “a former provincial deputy, an accountant, police officers and civilians who were savagely massacred”, Ituri governor Jean Bamanisa said in a video posted online.
The governor warned the killers: “The army has not given up”.
The attack was the latest attributed to an ethnic militia called CODECO, the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo.
On Friday, DR Congo’s army said it had killed seven of the militia’s fighters, which claims to defend the interests of the Lendu ethnic group. The Lendu are predominantly farmers who have historically clashed with the Hema community of traders and herders.
Ituri is one of several provinces gripped by militia violence in eastern DR Congo, a country the size of continental western Europe.
More than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Ituri since December 2017, including 375 since March, according to the United Nations.
“These acts could constitute crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned on June 4.
– ‘Slaughtering local residents’ –
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused CODECO and other Lendu fighters of pursuing “a strategy of slaughtering local residents — mainly the Hema, but also the Alur — since 2017” to control natural resources in the region.
Tens of thousands of people were killed in Hema-Lendu fighting between 1999 and 2003. The fighting resumed in 2017, for reasons that are not clear.
Just before Saturday’s attack, a delegation of former militia leaders from the 1999-2003 conflict had arrived in Ituri on a peace mission at the request of President Felix Tshisekedi.
Among them was Mathieu Ngudjolo, who was prosecuted but acquitted by the ICC in 2015, Ituri governor Bamanisa told AFP.
Local media reported that Germain Katanga was also present. Katanga was released in March having served nearly 12 years after being convicted by the ICC of war crimes including attacks on civilians.
The European Union ambassador to DR Congo, Jean-Marc Chataigner, condemned attacks in Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu on Twitter, calling for support of the army and the UN mission deployed in DR Congo, MONUSCO, “to prevent (militias) from doing harm”.