GOMA - At
least 161 people have been killed in a northeastern province of
Democratic Republic of Congo in the past week, local officials
said on Monday, in an apparent resurgence of ethnic clashes
between farming and herding communities.
A series of attacks in Ituri province has mostly targeted
Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers
over grazing rights and political representation, although the
exact identity of the assailants remains murky.
Open conflict between Hema and Lendu from 1999-2007 resulted
in an estimated 50,000 deaths in one of the bloodiest chapters
of a civil war in eastern Congo that left millions dead from
conflict, hunger and disease.
Tit-for-tat attacks between the two groups in late 2017 and
early 2018 killed hundreds of people and forced tens of
thousands more to flee their homes, but a tenuous calm had taken
hold until this month.
Pascal Kakoraki Baguma, a national lawmaker from Ituri, said
the latest violence was sparked by the killing last Monday of
four Lendu businesspeople.
"Members of the Lendu community believed that these
assassinations were the work of the Hema," Kakoraki said. "This
is why they launched several attacks on Hema villages."
"Sources affirm that 161 bodies have been found so far. But
the death toll goes beyond the bodies recovered, as there were
other massacres of civilians and police officers," he said.
Jean Bosco Lalo, president of civil society organisations in
Ituri, said 200 bodies had been found since last week in
predominantly Hema villages, including the 161 mentioned by
Kakoraki. Lalo said the toll would rise once his teams gained
access to other villages where killings had been reported.
Ituri Governor Jean Bamanisa said provincial authorities
were still working to establish the exact death toll and
declined to say who was responsible.
He said the assailants' tactics were to "empty out the
villages, burn them and pursue those who had fled to the
surrounding areas with bladed weapons".
Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in
January, is trying to restore stability to the country's eastern
borderlands, a tinderbox of conflict among armed groups over
ethnicity, natural resources and political power.
Several rebel leaders have surrendered or been captured
during his first months in office, but armed violence has
persisted, particularly in North Kivu province, south of Ituri,
which is the epicentre of a 10-month Ebola outbreak.