NAIROBI, KENYA - Rebels have massacred at least 184 civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since October, according to Human Rights Watch. The violence has been attributed to a rebel movement operating in the area despite U.N. and Congolese army operations against the group.
In research published Tuesday, Human Rights Watch documented horrifying brutality in the Beni territory of eastern DRC, where witnesses say rebels have been hacking civilians to death with machetes and axes, and shooting others with firearms during attacks on villages.
In one of the worst instances, local groups say at least 50 people were killed in one night in mid-November.
The attacks are believed to have been carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist group that began its rebellion in neighboring Uganda in the mid-1990s.
Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Ida Sawyer said the violence appeared aimed primarily at spreading terror.
“The attackers have come in, sometimes they pretend to be Congolese army soldiers and they come into the community and act like they are there to protect the civilians, and then later on, when night falls, they turn against the population and start hacking them to death,” she said.
Sawyer said Human Rights Watch could only confirm 184 people killed in attacks between October and December of this year, but said the actual number is likely “significantly higher.”
She noted the attacks were more brutal than usually carried out by ADF and the assailants were speaking languages not usually spoken by the group.
“What we do know is that these attacks are horrifically vicious and the population living there is terrorized and do not know where to turn for protection,” said Sawyer.
Congolese armed forces (FARDC) backed by U.N. peacekeepers have been battling the ADF since January and have driven the rebels from their main bases in eastern DRC.
The head of the U.N. peacekeeping force MONUSCO, Martin Kobler, told VOA about 1,200 U.N. peacekeepers, including Tanzanian soldiers were working alongside 8,000 Congolese troops. He said there were many challenges opposing a group using guerilla tactics in difficult terrain.
“It is a huge area with jungles and even if the enemy is seven kilometers away, if you have to walk seven kilometers this takes one-and-a-half to two hours to reach the place. And neither the FARDC, the Congolese army, nor MONUSCO can really be everywhere,” Kobler.
In 2013, the Congolese army and U.N. peacekeepers successfully defeated the M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo, while the ADF has proven harder to pin down.
Kobler said to improve the time it took for peacekeepers and soldiers to respond to violence MONUSCO has set up a hotline for civilians in Beni to report threats and information on rebel groups.
(If you are in the Beni area, you can reach the MONUSCO hotline through the number +243 997 06 82 73.)