KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — At least 17 people were killed by rebels in eastern Congo, local authorities said on Monday.
The people were abducted while driving on a road and then killed by the CODECO militia group in Djugu territory in Ituri province over the weekend, Col. Ruphin Mapela Mviniama told The Associated Press by phone.
“They attacked three vehicles and took them to Petshi, their stronghold, in the Walendu Djatsi district. The chief of the (the district) confirmed that they executed 17 people, including the drivers of the three vehicles,” he said.
Since the area is controlled by rebel militias it’s hard to investigate what happened, said Mviniama.
Fighting between CODECO, a loose association of various ethnic Lendu militia groups, and Zaire, a mainly ethnic Hema self-defense group, has been ongoing since 2017 but has worsened recently. At least 32 civilians were killed by CODECO last month, say local officials. In December, the United Nations said the insurgent group was expanding its areas of control, attacking civilians and Congo’s military, and taxing communities in the areas that it holds.
The killings come amid surging violence across eastern Congo, where conflict has been simmering for decades as more than 120 armed groups are fighting in the region, most for land and control of mines with valuable minerals, while some groups are trying to protect their communities.
In neighboring North Kivu province, the situation is deteriorating as the M23 rebel group, which was dormant for nearly a decade and resurfaced at the end of 2021, continues to seize swaths of territory and kill civilians.
More than 1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, in North Kivu, Ituri and South Kivu provinces, according to the United Nations. Militia groups in Ituri, like CODECO and the Allied Democratic Forces, which is aligned with the Islamic State group, are taking advantage of the government’s focus on M23 in North Kivu province causing large scale displacements, said the U.N.
Local authorities are urging Congo’s government to send military reinforcements to secure the roads in the area to allow people to travel freely.