Militia in Congo kills 37 in ethnic attack
Africa | Rising ethnic violence raises concerns of a possible widespread conflict
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 11/28/16, 10:58 am
A local militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least 37 people on Sunday amid tensions between warring groups. Escalating ethnic clashes and Congo’s ongoing political unrest have triggered concerns of a looming large-scale conflict.
Joy Beleke, a local administrator in the North Kivu province, said the Mai Mai Mazembe militia carried out the attack on a displaced persons camp of mostly ethnic Hutus in the village of Luhanga. The militia’s attack on the village began at about 5 a.m., she said.
“They started by attacking the FARDC (Congo military) position,” Beleke said. “While they were attacking the FARDC, another group was executing the population with bladed weapons or bullets.”
The United Nations mission in Congo confirmed some 50 militia members attacked more than a thousand Hutu families in the village. The mission said its forces engaged the attackers and helped transport some of the wounded to hospitals. One militiaman died in the clashes.
Congo’s Mazembe militia has accused the Hutus of supporting a Rwandan Hutu rebel group, while the Hutus argue the militant group is trying to deprive them of their land. Tensions increased when the Congolese military launched a crackdown on the region’s Hutu militia, displacing many fighters and civilians.
The Center of Study for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights, a local activist group, said the attack followed a week of threats from the militia to attack if the Hutus refused to leave the area.
“The militia was searching for members of the Hutu community and wreaked carnage before burning down the village entirely,” the group said. “The attackers were there for more than an hour.”
Congo has this year seen an increase in ethnic clashes. Humanitarian groups also fear the current unrest over President Joseph Kabila’s plan to remain in power despite the end of his mandate could ignite more local disputes and spiral into a larger conflict.
The UN last week said it is working on emergency plans to respond to a humanitarian crisis should the conflict escalate. The UN already expects nearly 8 million people next year to need aid.
“If these things happen, we have a contingency plan, which is built around what we have called ‘hot spots’—places where we anticipate that political strife will happen because they are opposition strongholds or there is a history of political conflict in these places,” said Mamadou Diallo, the UN mission’s humanitarian coordinator.
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.