KINSHASA (Reuters) - Seven people hacked to death in a hospital were among at least 30 people killed in fighting at the weekend between the army, backed by U.N. troops, and Islamist Ugandan rebels in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, local sources said on Monday.
Intelligence gaps, poor coordination and insufficient resources have rendered the Congolese army and the U.N. peacekeeping force ineffective against the armed ADF group that is estimated to have only a few hundred fighters.
Massacres on a similar scale have been a regular occurrence for more than a year. The ADF has operated in the area since the 1990s and funds itself by illicitly trading timber and gold.
Sunday’s clashes broke out in the town of Eringeti, 55 km (35 miles) north of the town of Beni near the Ugandan border, when fighters from the ADF - a group led by Islamist radicals - attacked a military headquarters, according to the Center of Study for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights, a group that documents violence in North Kivu province.
At least four Congolese soldiers and 12 Islamist militants were killed in the clashes, while seven civilians were hacked to death with machetes at a hospital, according to a provisional toll, U.N. DRC mission spokesman, Felix Basse said.
Eastern Congo is plagued by dozens of armed groups that prey on the local population and exploit mineral reserves. Millions died there between 1996 and 2003 as a regional conflict caused hunger and disease.
The government has blamed the ADF for nearly all of the attacks near Beni in the last year, although some analysts argue that other armed groups or criminal gangs are probably involved.
Local activists say at least 500 civilians have been killed near Beni since October 2014, most in overnight raids by rebels carried out with machetes and hatchets.
Alexis Katsurana, a local government administrator in the nearby town of Oicha, said that Eringeti residents had fled in their hundreds northward towards Ituri province on Sunday.
Eight Congolese soldiers and one U.N. peacekeeper from the Force Intervention Brigade, which has a mandate to conduct offensive operations, died fighting, the local rights group said in a statement.
Basse told Reuters that a U.N. peacekeeper from the brigade had been killed and a second wounded in the fighting. He declined to give the nationality of the peacekeepers but a U.N. source said the dead soldier was a Malawian.
He said the town was now once again under the control of Congolese and U.N. forces.
The governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, confirmed six civilian and 12 ADF deaths but said he had no information about Congolese army casualties.
Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Louise Ireland