Militiamen from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Nande ethnic group have killed 25 civilians in the country’s violence-torn east, almost all of them hacked to death with machetes, local officials and activists said on Saturday.
“In total 25 people were killed, decapitated by machete by the Mai-Mai Mazembe in and around the village of Kyaghala,” Francis Bakundakabo, the local representative of the governor of North Kivu province, told AFP.
“All of these people were Hutu civilians,” he said, adding that the killings took place between 4:00 am and 8:00 am on Saturday morning.
Hope Kubuya, a local civil society activist whose group went to verify the attack, said 24 of the victims had been killed with machetes and one woman shot dead.
“This raid by the Mai-Mai Mazembe in the Hutu village will enflame the inter-ethnic conflict in the region,” he added.
The Mai-Mai are a “self-defence” militia who count members of DR Congo’s Nande, Hunde and Kobo communities among their ranks, in opposition to rivals from the Nyaturu group representing ethnic Hutus.
The area around Kyaghala is majority-Hutu.
The last major attack to strike the volatile region came in December when at least 35 civilians were killed in clashes between fighters from the two groups.
DRC’s Nande, Hunde and Kobo people largely regard Hutus as foreigners, while the migration north of Hutu farmers – forced to abandon their southern territory due to rising land prices and under pressure from powerful landowners – has added to the strain.
Tensions between the Nande and Hutu communities have been growing worse for more than a year, with a series of village attacks by militia groups on both sides in the centre of North Kivu. The province, like much of eastern DRC, has been riven by conflict for more than two decades.
Since December, the DRC’s political crisis has also worsened, with President Joseph Kabila refusing to step down despite his mandate coming to an end.
The international community has urged government and opposition parties in the country to restart deadlocked talks to set up a transition regime ahead of elections due later this year.
Though the vast central African nation is rich in mineral wealth and water, it has long been one of the continent’s poorest nations and rising unrest has only deepened the economic malaise.