The U.N. human rights office says more than 100 people have been killed over the past few days in clashes between the army and a local militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai-Central province. The fighting took place between February 9 and 13 in the territory of Dibaya.
Tensions in the area of persistent conflict had been growing since April with the emerging friction between the customary tribal chief and authorities. The situation reached a fever pitch in August when the chief was killed by Congolese armed forces.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell tells VOA that since then, the local militia has become radicalized, attacking institutions viewed as symbols of the state.
“A lot of the people fighting with the militia, they are children," she said. "They have been recruited by the militia leaders and that is something that we strongly condemn…I cannot say exactly who the victims were, but we are given to understand that the majority of the people who have been killed were militia members.”
Throssell says the armed forces reportedly opened fire indiscriminately with machine guns last week when they saw the militia fighters, who were armed mainly with machetes and spears.
“One of the incidents did take place in the 9th of February when we understand there was an incident in the market and that may account for the fact that about 39 women were killed. They were caught in the fire,” she said.
The U.N. human rights office says it is deeply concerned about the high number of deaths, adding it suggests an excessive and disproportionate use of force by the soldiers. The agency is urging restraint to minimize damage and injury.
The agency says it has documented atrocities committed by both sides since August. It is calling for an independent investigation into human rights violations and abuses committed by the Congolese army and militia in the ongoing conflict.