Militia fighters kill at least 17 civilians in northeastern DR Congo

Local sources and a security watchdog in DR Congo, said militia fighters killed at least 17 civilians Monday in the northeastern province of Ituri; a region said to be plagued by inter-communal violence.

A local official, David Bahinduka Bamuhiga, was quoted saying that the Fighters of the Patriotic and Integrationist Force of Congo (FPIC) attacked the village of Chabusiku, adding that some of the victims were burned alive in their homes. Bamuhiga said the army was slow to arrive, and that 17 people, most of them members of the Hema ethnic group, were killed.

“We recruited youths to dig graves to bury the victims,” he said.

Experts of the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a recognized monitor, put the death toll at 18 and also blamed the FPIC. KST on its Twitter account said the new massacre “brings to at least 1,137 the number of civilians killed in North Kivu and Ituri since the start of the state of siege on May 6.

North Kivu and Ituri have been under “state of siege” to support a military offensive aimed at neutralising armed groups who target civilians as well as army positions. President Felix Tshisekedi decreed the measure, under which soldiers and police officers have replaced civilian authorities in the two provinces.

A military spokesman reportedly declined to comment and only indicated that the army was aware of the attack.

The FPIC claims to defend the interests of the Bira ethnic group, one of many in the gold-rich province that descended into violence in 2017 after years of relative calm. The violence has claimed over 1,000 lives. KST analysts says the militia is one of scores of armed groups operating in DR Congo’s four eastern border provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika; additionally, they say that the group is made up mainly of ethnic Bira youth who are said to be angry at being excluded from the provincial government and eager to regain lands occupied by Hema people.