The U.N. human rights office says it fears heightened tension between Hema herders and Lendu farmers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo may erupt into more violence following last week’s deadly attacks.
At least 62 internally displaced members of the Hema ethnic community were killed and 38 injured when their camp was attacked by an armed group last week. Fighters from CODECO, the Cooperative for the Development of Congo, staged a night-time raid on the Plaine Savo IDP camp in DR Congo’s Ituri province.
The attack, which took place February 1, is only the latest in a string of devastating assaults on IDP sites by CODECO, which is mainly composed of Lendu farmers.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssel says all the victims in the camp of 24,000 people were either shot or attacked with machetes and knives.
“It is already on vulnerable people. It is IDPs. It is people who are in camps. So, of course it is creating fears, tension. It is leading to people fleeing from the violence. Following deadly attacks last week and further attempts over the weekend, there is significant risk that other IDP sites could be attacked as well,” Throssel said.
U.N. officials note ethnic tensions between the Hema and Lendu communities have existed for years. Last year, the U.N. agency documented 10 attacks on IDP sites in Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces. In all, it says at least 106 people were killed, 16 injured and some seven women subjected to sexual violence.
The human rights agency is calling on DRC authorities to immediately strengthen the protection of civilians in the troubled areas. It says they must ensure the safety and security of people who have sought refuge from violent inter-ethnic attacks in IDP camps.
Military authorities in the region have launched a preliminary investigation into the recent onslaughts. U.N. officials say the investigation must be independent, effective, and transparent, and perpetrators must be brought to justice.