Congo militiamen kill 18 civilians in church compound

Militiamen have killed 18 civilians who had sought refuge in a church compound in eastern Congo, a witness and a local human rights groups said on Wednesday.

The attack took place early on Tuesday in Banyali Kilo, a district in the conflict-riven Ituri province, as the victims were asleep in church outbuildings. They had fled there after escaping from previous attacks, the sources said.

A survivor, Augustin Kolo, was asleep with his family when he heard cries from outside.

“I quickly got up and woke up my wife and my two children to flee. This is how we were saved even as 18 of our brothers and sisters were killed,” he said.

“It hurts so much. We are doubly wounded since we first left our villages and then the CODECO followed us here,” he said, referring to a militia group that an army spokesman also blamed for the attack. The spokesman gave no death toll. CODECO is one of many armed groups active in eastern Congo, where conflict over land and resources has spurred decades of violence.

Its fighters have killed hundreds of civilians and in recent months targeted camps housing displaced people. Reuters was unable to reach the group for comment on Wednesday.

Congo’s army has deployed troops in Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province, but has been unable to stop the violence. Sixty people were killed in February in an attack that the army and the other sources also blamed on CODECO.

“We are working …to restore peace throughout Ituri province. These militiamen have again attacked displaced persons who have no means of defence,” the army spokesman said, urging civilians to report suspect activities around displacement camps.

Both sources told Reuters that the CODECO militia was responsible for the killings at about 0200 GMT at the Savo camp near Bule in Ituri province.

Ituri army spokesman, Jules Ngongo, confirmed the attack by CODECO and gave a provisional toll of about 20 deaths. Congolese troops came into contact with the militia Tuesday night but the assailants changed direction and got past them to reach the camp, he said.

CODECO is one of an array of militias operating in eastern Congo amid longstanding tensions over land and resources. Its fighters have killed hundreds of civilians in Ituri and forced thousands to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. -Reuters

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