At least 26 people have been killed by suspected Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) since the beginning of the year, the army said on Wednesday, the worst attacks reported in the country in months.
The killings took place in remote villages in the territory of Shabunda in South Kivu Province, an area still troubled by armed groups more than eight years after the end of a 1998 to 2003 war that killed more than 5 million people.
“It’s very, very serious, to the point that the army is re-enforcing the area,” army spokesman -Colonel Sylvain Ekenge said. “They said they were attacked because the population had been supporting [another] local militia.”
The FDLR, which claims to be trying to overthrow the government in neighboring Rwanda, is the largest rebel group left in eastern DR Congo and has been responsible for widespread atrocities including mass rapes and killings.
Ekenge said small groups of FDLR fighters attacked settlements and burned huts in the densely forested region on Monday night, killing 18 civilians. Another eight died in attacks on villages on Tuesday night, he added.
Congolese soldiers were conducting a sweep of the area to try to track the attackers and protect civilians, Ekenge said.
Armed groups continue to operate in the DR Congo’s east, despite the presence more than 17,000 UN peacekeepers and ongoing military operations.
About 10 people were reported killed in South Kivu in October, and as many as 170 women were raped in a series of rebel attacks in June.
Many of the rebels receive their weapons and ammunition from the DR Congo’s army, either through illegal arms trading or capturing them on the battlefield, a UN report said last week.