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At least 161 dead in northeast DRC in apparent ethnic clashes

Published Jun 17, 2019

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GOMA - At

least 161 people have been killed in a northeastern province of

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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.

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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

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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

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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. 

Reuters

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