Kinshasa – Eighteen civilians were killed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday by a notorious ethnic militia, which attacked a church building where displaced people had taken shelter, local and church sources said.
The incident took place in the village of Kilo, in deeply troubled Ituri province, they said.
An armed group called CODECO “attacked us at around 5:30am,” an official in the Catholic church told AFP.
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“They started to fire their weapons and we holed up in the house. They entered one of the apartments where displaced people were sleeping after they left, we found 12 bodies”.
The complex houses around 1 000 people who had fled massacres in the nearby village of Matongo, in Djugu territory.
Jean-Pierre Basiloko, who represents an association of local NGOs, said the gunmen first attacked a unit of the Congolese army before raiding the church building.
They then killed another four people nearby and fatally wounded two others, he said.
CODECO the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo is a political-religious sect that claims to represent the interests of the Lendu ethnic group.
The Lendu and Hema communities have a long-standing feud that led to thousands of deaths between 1999 and 2003 before intervention by a European peacekeeping force.
Violence then resumed in 2017, blamed on the emergence of CODECO.
CODECO attacks since then have caused hundreds of deaths and prompted more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes, while half of the region’s population faces food insecurity, according to the Danish Refugee Council.
On February 16, CODECO detained eight people, including a general, who had been sent by President Felix Tshisekedi to try to negotiate a peace deal.
CODECO is one of scores of armed groups that roam Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu, many of which are a legacy of two regional wars a quarter of a century ago.
The two provinces were placed under a “state of siege” last May.
Under it, senior civilian officials were replaced by army or police officers, in the declared aim of streamlining the crackdown on armed groups. Attacks have continued, however.