GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency says at least 57 civilians were killed, including seven children, and nearly 6,000 forced to flee, when their displacement sites came under attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern Ituri province on May 31.
The armed rebel group Allied Democratic Forces reportedly staged multiple, simultaneous attacks on displacement sites and villages near the towns of Boga and Tchabi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Witnesses say the armed men shot and attacked people with machetes, killing and wounding scores of people. They say at least 25 people were abducted and more than 70 shelters and stores set on fire.
U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Balloch called the latest series of atrocities committed by the ADF outrageous and heartbreaking.
"In Boga town alone, 31 women, children and men were killed," Balloch said. "Bereaved family members told UNHCR partners that many of their relatives were burnt alive in their houses."
More than 5 million people have been uprooted by insecurity and violence in the DRC — 1.7 million in Ituri province alone. Balloch said security in the region must be scaled up to protect the lives of civilians, many of whom have been attacked and forced to flee multiple times.
"We have seen in the past where there is security present that the number of attacks go down," Balloch said. "But understanding how these displacement sites are, which are scattered all around the Ituri province, many of them are spontaneous. So, people go through horrendous atrocities at the hands of the armed group."
The U.N. spokesman said thousands of people fled the attacks with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many are sleeping out in the open in the bush, and are in desperate need of assistance.
Unfortunately, insecurity is hampering humanitarian work, he said. The office of one of the UNHCR's partner agencies recently was looted, depriving thousands of crucial aid. Moreover, security concerns have forced health centers in Bunia, the capital of Ituri, to evacuate their staff and temporarily suspend activities.