KINSHASA (Reuters) – Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 62 civilians in a series of attacks this week in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where the army is waging a counter-insurgency campaign against the rebels, the government said on Saturday.
The upsurge in violence after a period of relative calm in early January undercuts government claims of security progress against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist group active in Beni territory.
Rights group CEPADHO said ADF fighters had killed at least 74 civilians, many of them women and children, with knives and guns. It said the attacks spanned about 10 villages over the course of less than 48 hours.
The army has repeatedly claimed to have made sweeping progress against the group by killing several top commanders and capturing many of the its camps in the dense forests near the Ugandan border.
But the ADF, which arrived in Congo from Uganda in the 1990s, has survived frequent onslaughts from Congolese force and U.N. peacekeepers, and taken revenge on civilian populations.
It is one of dozens of armed groups active in Congo’s mineral-rich eastern borderlands, where regional wars around the turn of the century resulted in millions of deaths.
Officials said on Wednesday that at least 30 people had been killed overnight near the city of Oicha. Civil society activists reported that dozens more civilians were killed in attacks on nearby villages on Thursday.
The government provided the death toll of 62 in the minutes of a cabinet meeting, without offering any additional details. It said the army was “dismantling the networks of collaborators and other agents thanks to information provided by captured ADF fighters”.
The Kivu Security Tracker, a research initiative that maps unrest in the region, said the latest attacks bring to at least 312 the number of civilian killed by the ADF in Beni since Congo’s army launched its offensive on Oct. 30.
Islamic State has publicly claimed responsibility for several attacks carried out in Beni territory, but the United Nations and various researchers have been unable to confirm any direct link between IS and the ADF.
Additional reporting by Sammy Mupfuni; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross and Nick Macfie