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Dozens killed in attack on DR Congo camp for displaced

June 13, 2023

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo said militants attacked a camp it runs for internally displaced people in Ituri province, killing at least 45 civilians.

A United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) armoured personnel carrier (APC) drives through a road in Rhoe camp for the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Djugu's territory, Ituri's province, north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo April 20, 2023.
The UN operates several camps for the millions of people internally displaced in the conflict-ridden DR CongoImage: Paul Lorgerie/REUTERS

Militants in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern Ituri province attacked a UN-run camp for internally displaced people, killing at least 45 civilians and wounding 10 more, according to preliminary information. 

The UN's peacekeeping mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, announced the overnight attack on Monday at the camp it runs known as "LALA" in eastern DRC, not far from the Ugandan border.

It said it believed a militia known as CODECO — the Cooperative for the Development of Congo — had perpetrated the attack. 

"This targeted massacre against vulnerable displaced persons is attributed, according to our information, to the militiamen of the Cooperative for the Development of Congo," MONUSCO said in a statement. "The Mission will spare no effort to put an end to these attacks and to fight against impunity, in accordance with its mandate."

It said that the perpetrators had attacked civilians with guns and machetes, and that several people were burned alive after their tents were set on fire.

Jean Richard Lenga, chief of the local Bahema Badjere district, gave a similar account of the attack. 

"The whole village is in mourning now," he said, adding that the authorities were still searching for bodies.

Many people had fled to the nearby town of Bule, seeking safety, Lenga said.

MONUSCO said it had coordinated with local authorities to reinforce security in the area. 

"This attack constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law, and MONUSCO would like to remind that deliberate attacks against civilian populations can constitute war crimes," the statement said. 

Congolese children play as they ride atop a United Nations water truck, in Rhoe camp for the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Djugu's territory, Ituri's province, north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo April 19, 2023.
Various rival militias are active in Ituri province in DR CongoImage: Paul Lorgerie/REUTERS

Attack soon after talks between rebel groups in region

CODECO is one of many militias operating in the DRC's conflict-ridden east. It claims to represent the interests of Lendu farmers, who have long been in conflict with Hema herders. According to the UN, its fighters have killed hundreds of civilians in Ituri and forced thousands more to flee their homes.

The UN peacekeeping force said its head, Bintou Keita from Guinea, wanted to reiterate the body's call for an "immediate cessation of violences by all groups against civilians," but particularly to "invite CODECO to respect" the commitments it made when signing an agreement on June 1 this year after talks between four DRC rebel groups in Aru, which is also in Ituri province. 

Three other groups — the Patriotic Resistance Force of Ituri (FPRI), the Patiotic and Integrationist Front of Congo (FPIC) and the Popular Self-Defense Movement of Ituri — along with CODECO agreed to what MONUSCO referred to as a "program of disarmament, demobilization, community recovery and stablization."

It's not the first time CODECO has been accused of attacking a camp for displaced persons. In January it was blamed for an attack at another camp in Savo, also in Ituri province. 

Ituri currently hosts about 1.7 million internally displaced people in total, the UN humanitarian office (OCHA) said in its latest report. In the last 14 years, amid almost uninterrupted unrest in DRC across several regions of the vast country, as many as 20 million people are thought to have been internally displaced, at least temporarily. 

MONUSCO took over its current mandate, from another UN peacekeeping force that was already in the DRC, in 2010. As of February this year, the group said it had more than 17,500 personnel — the bulk of them uniformed personnel like military or police — in the country. Its ties with DR Congo's government in Kinshasa were also strained last year amid a series of incidents, most notably the death of two civilians in anti-UN protests at the hands of peacekeeping forces in Goma, the capital of the state of North Kivu, on Ituri's southern border.

DR Congo: Anger in Goma over incessant militant attacks

msh/jsi (AFP, dpa, Reuters)