More than 20 people, including children, are reported to have been killed in a series of brutal attacks in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN mission in the country has launched an investigation.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) said on Monday that the bodies of at least 21 people had been recovered after the violence, which had occurred in the east of the country over the weekend.
"The victims, including women and children - the youngest of which is thought to have been only a few months old - were hacked to death on December 13 and 14," said the head of the UN mission, Martin Kobler, in a statement.
"Three girls under 18 are reported to gave been raped by the attackers and then beheaded. The mutilated and dismembered body of a child is said to have been found in a tree, in the village of Musuku," he said, adding that "these atrocities will not go unpunished."
The MONUSCO statement did not say who the UN believed may have been behind the attacks, which took place in several villages near the town of Beni in the DRC's North Kivu province.
ADF-NALU rebels blamed
However, some have blamed the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, also known by the acronym ADF-NALU.
"ADF-NALU has been moving for the last two or three weeks and this locality was in their route. ADF-NALU controls this area," North Kivu provincial lawmaker Jaribu Muliwavyo told the Reuters news agency. "It is terrorism, pure and simple."
The AFP news agency cited a statement from the umbrella organization North Kivu Civil Society, which asserted that "the carnage was perpetrated by ADF-NALU's Ugandan rebels."
The MONUSCO statement said an investigation had been launched and that reinforcements had been sent to the region to help protect the local civilian population.
A 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade helped the Congolese army defeat the key M23 rebels last month, but various armed groups continue to hold territory in the mountainous region along the DRC's eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda.
DW's correspondent in Goma, Jack Kahorha said the affected villages have long been neglected by the authorities after much of the attention went only to the areas under threat by the M23 rebels.
“The ADF-NALU has committed many crimes in these areas and civil society groups have compiled reports on the atrocities committed by this particular but nothing has been done,” said Kahorha.
MONUSCO urged to act
North Kivu Civil Society urged MONUSCO to urgently launch a military operation against the rebels, which has been based in the mountainous area near the Ugandan border since its creation in 1995.
The UN peacekeeping force, one of the world's largest, has offered little hope for the residents of Beni.
“The last time they MONUSCO and the Congolese troops carried out joint military operations against the ADF rebel group was three years ago,” Kahorha said
Theiry Vircoulon, an expert on Central Africa, told DW that the ADF-NALU group could be under intense pressure from Ugandan authorities and the pending neutralization of all rebel groups in eastern DRC.
The UN intervention brigade has promised to rid the Kivu region, which includes some of the continent's most impenetrable jungles, of the dozens of shady armed groups and criminal gangs that have been active there for years.