Attacks in villages and fighting between militias killed at least 35 people over the Christmas weekend in North Kivu, a majority Christian area in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The bloodshed began in Eringeti — a town 55 kilometres (35 miles) north of the regional hub Beni, which for two years has been hit by massacres killing hundreds, many of whom were hacked to death.
Rebels from The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) — dominated by puritanical Ugandan Muslims — killed 22 people after storming Eringeti on Saturday, regional official Amisi Kalonda told AFP.
The toll climbed to 35 on Monday with the announcement that at least 13 Hutu civilians, mostly women and an eight-year-old girl, were killed on Sunday by a militia from the Nande ethnic group.
“The victims were all Hutu. There was an eight-year-old girl, a father and the rest were women,” said local official Alphonse Mahano.
They were killed around the village of Nyanzale, a Hutu majority community.
The Nande and some other ethnic groups regard the Hutus as outsiders because of their attachment to the majority ethnic group in neighbouring Rwanda.
A string of attacks in the past year by both Hutu and Nande militia forces has deepened hatred between the communities.
Hutu farmers have also been forced to abandon land further south because of high property costs and under pressure from major landowners.
– Relentless bloodshed –
Although Congolese officials have blamed the attacks on the ADF, several expert reports have suggested that other groups, including elements within the Congolese army, took part in some killings.
When the Beni massacres began in October 2014, the ADF was quickly branded the culprit by both DR Congo authorities and MONUSCO, the UN mission in DR Congo.
More than two years on, Congolese authorities and the UN have been unable to protect civilians and the ADF remains the only official explanation — with the government insisting on a jihadist link to the killings.
It comes as relations with the international community have soured over President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down despite his term ending on December 20.
Separately, the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) announced Monday that its troops had killed 10 soldiers from neighbouring Burundi after they crossed the border last week in pursuit of rebels.
“There were 10 deaths,” Major Dieudonne Kajibwami, told AFP, following a previous statement that five bodies had been taken to Uvira, a lakeside town in the eastern South Kivu province.
Kivu is rich in natural, mainly mineral resources, such as gold, coltan and cassiterite, coveted by the telecommunications industry. Both south and north Kivu have rich agricultural and forestry resources.
North Kivu is one of the DRC’s most densely populated areas.
Tiny compared to the vast size of the country, the two provinces suffer not only because of fighting over their mineral resources but because of their proximity to an unstable border with Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, along with Tanzania.