Over the last two months, a series of vicious massacres have left over 250 dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) region of Beni, with residents being brutally killed by machetes, axes, and batons. The most recent attack on Saturday saw 36 people massacred by machetes. Among the dead were14 women and 9 children.
Initially the ADF/Nalu, the rebel group that has resided in the densely forested region since the 1980s, was assumed to have carried out the attack. The FARDC, DRC's national army, has launched an offensive against the ADF/Nalu since January. But the forest makes for a complicated, unclear terrain. Some FARDC soldiers have told VICE News that this war is far deadlier then the much-publicized M23 war, which began in April 2012 and lasted 19 months.
Suspicious movements of people have been sighted coming in from the border of Uganda, and survivors of attacks have said they don't understand the language the killers are speaking. Many locals believe the wave of violence could be a possible bid to create chaos ahead of DRC's 2016 elections. Beni is a political and strategic stronghold for Congo, as it is the gateway to Uganda, and much of the gold and timber trade passes though this region.
Some of these attacks happened when UN generals and government official have visited the region, as if to shame and undermine the United Nations, the FARDC, and the government. Locals are angry, and feel that the FARDC and UN aren't stopping these massacres from happening.
UN General Jean Baillaud visited the region to assess the situation and to motivate the UN's Force Intervention Brigade to engage in active combat and create a preventative, rather then reactive strategy. Although both the UN soldiers and the Force Interventions Brigade carry out day and night patrols in the region, the attacks continue.
Many of the villages from Beni to Eringeti are silent and empty. As the local population continues to flee, those who stay to harvest their crops do so at the risk of their lives.
The Semuliki River snakes through the forested Virunga Park, west of Beni towards the border of Uganda. Sadly, this beautiful park hosts a war between the ADF/Nalu and the FARDC, and is where these massacres are happening.
Throughout the villages between Beni and Eringeti, you can see these figures made out of grass and straw, clothed as people. At night, the youth light fires beside these figures in an effort to protect their families. One man told VICE News that people are trying to take back the power and create safety.
UN General Jean Baillaud patrols the once ADF/Nalu stronghold of Muenda, close to the border of Uganda. The Ruwenzori mountain range is seen in the background, and a movement of large groups of people can be seen entering the area from Uganda.
General Mushale, commander of the North Kivu region, speaks to the people of Eringeti after the massacre. UN General Baillaud and General Muhindos are seen in the background.
FARDC General Muihndos on patrol through the forest towards the Byalosa frontline position.
Tanzanian Force Intervention resting after patrolling through the forest to the Byalosa frontline, delivering supplies to the very hungry FARDC soldiers.
FARDC frontline soldiers listen to the generals speak at the Byalosa frontline.
A fallen figure which can be found everywhere in an attempt to frighten away attackers.
Tanzanian force intervention brigade troops at Eringeti.
One family in Eringeti lost two mothers and 6 children when they were attacked. Two girls of 3 and 6 survived machete strikes to the head. The 15-year-old girl in the center escaped being killed.
Swaza Eranal, a 15-year-old from Eringeti who survived being killed in the Eringeti massacre. The attackers told her they were going to cut off her breasts. After her siblings and mother was killed, she ran to get help but was sent away by the FARDC.
Fresh blood on the ground where several people were killed by machetes hours earlier in Ihily village.
Standing in his cabbage garden where his wife was killed by machete strikes to the head, Paluku Kavondma, 54, later left to walk 10 miles on foot with two cabbages. He had no money and no telephone — all he had was his cabbages and a few hens.
A FARDC soldier guards the village of Ihily. UN General Baillaud, seen in the background, investigates the massacre site. Many of the FARDC soldiers look sick and emaciated. It is well known they are paid very little and irregularly.
All photos by Dearbhla Glynn