KINSHASA (Reuters) - Widespread and systematic killings, beheadings, rape and other barbaric acts by militia mostly from the ethnic Lendu community in northeastern Congo may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
In the six months to April 2020, at least 296 people were killed, 151 wounded and 38 raped, including women and children, mostly by fighters linked to the CODECO rebel group, said a report by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO).
CODECO’s fighters are drawn from the Lendu ethnic group.
Rich in natural resources including gold, diamonds, oil and coltan, the Ituri province in northeast Congo was the site of some of the country’s worst fighting between 1999 and 2007, after a power struggle between rebel groups descended into ethnic violence, mostly between the Hema and Lendu communities.
After years of relative calm, tit-for-tat fighting erupted again in Dec. 2017, reviving longstanding tensions over land.
The recent attacks against civilians not only targeted the Hema and Alur communities, but included communities previously spared, UNJRHO report said. The raids intensified from March this year, particularly around artisanal mining sites.
“The persistence of this violence is likely to push members of the communities targeted by the attacks, who have so far shown restraint, to form self-defence militias,” UNJRHO said.
“This could increase the likelihood of large-scale inter-communal violence in the region.”
Since June 2018, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, bringing the number of displaced people in Ituri province to more than 1.2 million, UNJRHO said. On March 25 CODECO’s leader Justin Ngudjolo was killed in an army ambush, leading to a power struggle and split within the group.
“There is a high risk that leaders with more radical positions will emerge and plunge the area into a more serious cycle of violence, with even more attacks against (the army) and civilians,” UNJRHO said in the report.
Additional reporting and writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Bate Felix, William Maclean