Map locating Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By Vincent LEFAI (AFP)
Dozens of people were killed overnight in several villages in DR Congo’s northeast province of Ituri, raising the toll of an ethnic conflict that has already caused tens of thousands to flee, officials said Tuesday.
“We have recorded 30 deaths. There are certainly other bodies out in the bush. A search is underway,” a government official said. Other sources gave a higher toll.
“In the village of Djo, (the attackers) killed 10 people, in Gbi, there were 10 dead, and in Takpa, 19 people were shot dead, which makes 39 dead,” Willy Pilo Mulindro, head of Bahema-North district, told AFP.
The UN radio channel Okapi gave a toll of 41 dead.
Fighting in Ituri has involved the Hema and Lendu communities, respectively cattle herders and farmers who have a long history of violence over access to land.
At least 130 people have been killed since clashes flared anew in December, according to an unofficial toll compiled by AFP.
Around 200,000 people have fled their homes, as per estimates by humanitarian workers.
Tens of thousands have crossed the border to seek shelter in Uganda, most of them women and children.
In 2003, a flareup of violence in Ituri triggered Operation Artemis, a three-month operation by the European Union — its first military mission outside Europe.
The operation averted a humanitarian catastrophe, but the fighting never came to a total halt.
The conflict in Ituri is part of a broader background of violent and instability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Swathes of the territory are in the hands of militia groups, some of whom trace their origins back to two wars, from 1996-7 and 1998-2008, that drew in other countries in eastern and central Africa.
New conflicts are erupting in a climate of political insecurity over the future of President Joseph Kabila.
In December, Kabila faces elections that have been twice delayed since his second presidential term — the last under the country’s constitution — expired at the end of 2016.