By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC of CONGO (ANS, July 11, 2016) — An attack by unknown armed men early on Tuesday morning (July 5) has claimed the lives of at least nine Christians in the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to World Watch Monitor www.worldwatchmonitor.org .
Local sources contacted by World Watch Monitor said the assailants stormed the Tenambo, Nzanza and Mamiki communities, near an army base on the outskirts of the town of Oicha, between 4am and 6am.
World Watch Monitor reports that, armed with guns and machetes, the attackers looted homes, taking food and cattle as plunder. The incident was confirmed by security forces and the Administrator of Beni territory, Bernard Amisi Kalonda, who said the death toll may climb higher as searches for victims continue.
World Watch Monitor explained that Eastern DRC has been beset by deadly violence, with 1,116 killed between October 2014 and May 2016, according to local NGOs. Another 1,470 people have been abducted, they say, while more than 34,000 families have been forcibly displaced. There have also been numerous cases of sexual violence against women and children.
In analysis of the violence, World Watch Monitor says the area is nearly 96 per cent Christian, and the impact of the violence has been immense. A pastor in the area affected by the July 5 attack told World Watch Monitor that all the victims, including an elder from his church and five women, were Christians.
The World Watch Monitor news report says the attack provoked panic; many fled the area and sought refuge in safer areas of Oicha. A local activist said security forces did not heed the warnings of an imminent attack, after leaflets were distributed in Beni and the surrounding area.
“The authorities should have taken some steps to counter the enemy,” Teddy Kataliko told local media. “Today, they penetrated the center of the capital of the Beni territory, and created desolation. We believe it’s time we take action all around Oicha and Beni to avoid even worse.”
The three communities attacked by rebels were only 200 meters from an army position, and about three kilometers from a UN base. Despite persistent gunfire and calls for help, no-one intervened, local sources said.
Another unnamed activist told local media that some people thought they were under attack by the military. “They were wearing full uniform with Arab scarves around their necks and red bands around their heads,” the activist said. “The army always asks the population to collaborate, but when they do, nothing is happening.”
An army spokesman has denied the accusations, World Watch Monitor said.
The news outlet said the Congolese government has always attributed responsibility for attacks to the Islamist militants of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). But a report published on March 21 by the Congo Research Group, an independent group linked with New York University, has cast doubts on that assessment.
The report, titled “Who are the killers of Beni?”, says that a number of actors and interests have fueled the crisis in eastern DRC. Rather than a foreign Islamist group driven by revenge, ADF rebels have forged strong ties with local groups and militias over the course of 20 years of insurrection around Beni, it says.
Adding to the criticism that the Congolese army has been passive in the face of the violence, the report claims that the Congolese government and MONUSCO (the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission) have not put sufficient effort into addressing the crisis. Moreover, the ADF has not acted alone, it says.
The report adds that in addition to commanders directly tied to the ADF, members of the national army and local militias have also been involved in attacks on civilians.
“Our researchers have documented cases in which [army] officers discouraged their units from intervening during massacres, and there is extensive evidence indicating that members of the [army] have actively participated in massacres,” the report said. The Congo Research Group recommended that both the DRC government and UN peacekeeping forces investigate the violence committed in the Beni vicinity since October 2014 and determine responsibility for the massacres.
World Watch Monitor stated that in May, local NGOs wrote to Congolese President Joseph Kabila to denounce the ongoing killings of people in eastern DRC, particularly in Beni and Lubero, in North Kivu Province. But the violence continues.
The news outlet said the UN’s 2016 Global Humanitarian Overview documented the continued presence of numerous illegally armed groups in DRC. It also highlighted the scale of the humanitarian disaster.
“In DRC, a complex and protracted crisis of massive proportions has created humanitarian needs for 7.5 million people, or 9 per cent of the population,” the UN report stated. “Eastern DRC continues to be the theater of a complex and protracted humanitarian crisis affecting at least 1.6 million IDPs, 90 per cent of whom are displaced due to armed attacks and violence.”
Photo captions: 1) MONUSCO forces outside the town of Oicha, eastern DRC, in May 2015. 2) Michael Ireland
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. To help partner with Michael in ministry, log-on to: https://ACTINTL.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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