Around 8pm on Wednesday night, men armed with machetes and hatchets attacked residents of two neighborhoods located on the outskirts of Beni, a town in the northeastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thomas d'Aquin Muiti Landa, president of the Civil Society of North Kivu, told VICE News that the attack on the Ngadi and Kadowu neighborhoods, which is being blamed on the Ugandan rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), left close to 30 people dead and a dozen seriously injured.
The brutal attack comes just a few days after the killing of civilians in the nearby town of Oicha. Both the governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, and the Civil Society of North Kivu are pointing the finger at the ADF. While en route to the victims' burial, Paluku told VICE News, "It looks like what the ADF have done in the past, but we had never seen atrocities on this scale."
Paluku confirmed that the Ugandan rebels' main military bases had been destroyed during operations by the National Army of Congo (FARDC), but said that small ADF factions continued to operate in the region.
Established in 1995 in neighboring Uganda by opponents of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, the ADF is a rebel group of strict Islamists and is now largely based in eastern DRC, according to the Enough Project. Led by Jamil Mukulu, a 68-year-old former Christian converted to Islam, the ADF has been hiding out for years in northern Congo.
The United Nations Security Council has blacklisted the ADF, which, together with looting and murder, is accused of kidnapping and training children as soldiers to inflate its ranks. The ADF is allegedly responsible for the abduction of over 900 civilians over the last few years. Many in the region believe that the group is bankrolled by or allied with al Shabaab, the Islamist militant group based in Somalia.
Christoph Vogel, a researcher at the university of Zurich and specialist in militias of North Kivu, told VICE News that such claims should be taken with a grain of salt.
"The UN has never found proof of such a link. It is likely that certain links, certain exchanges do exist, but it is unlikely that al Shabaab has sent over recruits or key equipment to the ADF," he said.
According to Vogel, ADF is the most mystifying armed group in the region, which is partly down to the lack of clarity surrounding the rebels' aims and demands.
"Their aim is not to topple the government, nor to establish territorial governance in their Congolese fiefdom. They may be trying to strengthen their militia and their economic network, which relies on taxes and extortion," he explained. "They have very rarely undertaken any real attacks or military campaigns. The ADF are mostly active when they're being tracked down."
In January, the FARDC, supported by MONUSCO, a UN stabilization mission based in the country, led an operation against the various armed groups wreaking havoc in North Kivu. The operation was somewhat successful, but according to Muiti Landa, not successful enough.
"When they won back all the ADF neighborhoods, they [FARDC] said that the operation was 'concluded.' There were still around 50 members of the ADF left. Now they are rebuilding, looting food in order to survive," he said. "The ADF must not be considered to have been eliminated. Even if there are only two or five [of them] left, they can still rebuild. They have to be pushed further back, preferably back into Uganda, their home."
Vogel was careful to insist that despite the likelihood of ADF being responsible for Wednesday's killings, it remained a possibility that another armed group from the region had carried out the attack.
Martin Kobler, head of MONUSCO, released the following statement on the day following the attacks saying, "MONUSCO is determined to continue to support the ongoing 'Sukola' operation, which involves the disabling of the ADF and of its leaders, the freeing of those hostages that continue to be detained, and the full return of state authority to the affected regions."
He also shared his concern about the resurgence of violence in the region.
According to Muiti Landa, however, there is no doubt that these killings fall within the modus operandi of the ADF:
"They operate in small groups, with the aim of terrorizing and intimidating people to show their how strong they are. in Beni, everyone is traumatized by these recurring attacks. What's going on in this part of the region is human carnage."
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