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At Least 60 Dead in Attack on Camp for Displaced People in Congo

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The families had fled their homes and farms to escape attacks by marauding militants, taking refuge in a makeshift camp for displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

But a militia found them anyway as they slept in the white tents of the Plaine Savo camp in Ituri province on Tuesday night, shooting and hacking to death at least 60 people — many of them women and children.

The heinous act of violence shook Africa’s second-largest nation, where a surge of attacks has left communities displaced, devastated and in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

The assault was one of the biggest in almost a year to hit the country’s restive eastern region, which is beset by poor governance, weak security and rampant corruption. More than 120 armed groups operate in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which records violence and human rights violations in eastern Congo.

Ndalo Budz, who works for Caritas Congo and manages the camp that was attacked on Tuesday night said that besides those killed, more than 50 people were injured, some severely. The fatalities included at least 16 children and nine women, according to Pierre Boisselet, the coordinator of the Kivu Security Tracker.

Videos from eyewitnesses, some shared on social media, showed crowds wailing over the bodies of their loved ones, many of them with what appeared to be deep cuts on their heads and necks.

Lt. Jules Ngongo, the Congolese Army spokesman in Ituri, said the Cooperative for Development of Congo militia, known locally as CODECO, was responsible for the attack. He said the army was deployed to the camp after the attack “to restore order, and we are chasing the enemy.”

Peacekeepers from the United Nations exchanged fire with the attackers and later conducted joint operations with the Congolese forces to secure the area, said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said in a news briefing on Wednesday. Delivery of humanitarian assistance to the area remained limited, he said.

Mike Hammer, the U.S. ambassador to Congo, said in a post on Twitter that the killing of “defenseless civilians” seeking humanitarian assistance was “unforgivable,” adding, “The perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

The attack was the latest to rock eastern Congo, a lush, mineral-rich region where militant groups have for years carried out vicious assaults against the local population. The attack on Tuesday, Mr. Boisselet said, was the deadliest one recorded in the region since last May, when 55 people were killed in a double attack in Boga and Tchabi villages in Ituri Province.

Nearly 5.6 million people remained displaced in Congo as of November, according to the United Nations refugee agency, with more than a million others registered as refugees and asylum seekers outside the country.

The deadliest of the armed groups is the Allied Democratic Forces, which has targeted peacekeeping forces, conducted jail breaks and carried out a string of suicide attacks in both Congo and neighboring Uganda. In late November, Uganda sent its troops into Congo in a joint operation with Congolese forces aimed at neutralizing the group and taking over its bases in the country.

CODECO, the militia that the government says conducted the assault on Tuesday, has been attacking villages in Ituri Province and pushing more people from their homes in the last three years, according to observers. At least four splinter groups of the militia emerged after its leader, Justin Ngudjolo, was killed in March 2020, with one of the offshoots, Union of Revolutionaries for the Defense of the Congolese People, carrying out at least 293 violent incidents since last April, according to the Kivu tracker.

As security has deteriorated, more than 800 deaths were recorded in Ituri in the last six months of 2021, Mr. Boisselet said.

Some displacement camps have seen repeated attacks. More than 20,000 people lived in Plaine Savo camp, said Simon Englebert Lubuku, the deputy country spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, with those in the camp originally fleeing violence in the Djugu territory.

The violence in eastern Congo has continued even after President Felix Tshisekedi announced a “state of siege” last May in North Kivu and Ituri. The declaration put the military and the police in charge of the regions and instituted martial law in a bid to end the bloodshed. But killings, rapes and abductions have continued.

“Neither the Congolese Army nor the United Nations peacekeeping forces have been able to offer adequate protection to all the I.D.P. sites, whose numbers are growing,” Mr. Boisselet said, referring to the displacement camps.

Steve Wembi reported from Kinshasa, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Khartoum, Sudan.

Circassia News

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