Attacks in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo province of Ituri have left more than 150 civilians dead in the past two weeks, the United Nations said Tuesday.
The province and its southern neighbour of North Kivu have been wracked by increasing violence between several militia groups in the mineral-rich region along the border with Uganda.
One group, CODECO, or Cooperative for the Development of the Congo, says it is protecting the Lendu community from another ethnic group, the Hema, as well as the DR Congo army.
The Hema meanwhile, are defended by the Zaire militia — while the province is also targeted by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) linked to the Islamic State jihadist group.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned of “persistent attacks against civilians in three separate districts” — Djugu, Irumu and Mambasa — that had killed around 150 civilians since the start of April.
Health clinics attacked
As a result, Irumu in particular “has become a refuge for thousands of people fleeing the widespread insecurity”, the OCHA said.
Attacks have also been reported against health clinics and other essential services, the agency said.
The security situation in Ituri was “extremely concerning” with the attacks leaving communities “in dire need of assistance and protection”, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
Stephane Dujarric said the UN was committed to supporting people impacted by violence but warned that the “delivery of this assistance may be delayed in areas that were impacted by recent attacks.”
He said local authorities had told the UN at least 55 civilians were killed when armed assailants attacked a village in Djugu in a single attack on Friday.
The conflict rekindled between the Hema and Lendu communities in 2017, resulting in thousands of deaths and forcing more than 1.5 million people from their homes.
Regional wars legacy
Much of eastern DR Congo is plagued by dozens of armed groups, a legacy of regional wars that flared in the 1990s and 2000s.
For the past two years, Ituri and North Kivu have been under a state of emergency declared by the national government in Kinshasa, in which police and army forces have replaced the civil administration.
The M23, a militia led by ethnic Tutsis, has separately won a string of victories against the army and enemy militias since re-emerging from dormancy in late 2021, capturing swathes of North Kivu province while threatening the regional capital of Goma.
In November, the seven-nation East African Community began deploying a military force of thousands of troops to eastern Congo in a bid to stabilise the volatile region.