Residents in the Ituri province, located near the border with Uganda, are expressing their exhaustion with the ongoing violence that has plagued their communities. Dozens of civilians have been killed in recent attacks by suspected armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to local advocates and news reports.
The latest attacks occurred on Friday in the province of Ituri, an area that has regularly experienced systematic attacks on communities since 2017. Charite Banza, the head of local civil society, reported that the attack killed about 30 people, including both women and men. The attackers also set fire to several houses and looted property.
Other sources have reported a higher death toll, with the AFP news agency reporting that more than 40 people were killed. Innocent Matukadala, a regional administrator, stated that 36 bodies were found in the town of Kilo Etat, plus another eight in Matete and more in Itendy. Robert Basiloko, another civil society leader from the area, estimated that 43 people were killed, including five children.
The Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO), a group of militias, has been identified as the suspected culprit in the attacks by sources quoted in both Reuters and AFP. The United Nations reports that violence and insecurity have caused an estimated 1.5 million people to be displaced in Ituri over the past six years.
The conflict in Ituri stems from ongoing tensions between the Lendu and Hema ethnic groups, as well as from the desire to control the province’s natural resources, which include gold and oil deposits. The conflict has a long history, with violence becoming particularly intense in the 1990s and 2000s.
Since the violence spiked again in December 2017, attacks on civilians have become a near-daily occurrence, according to the UN. The UNHCR, its refugee agency, has expressed deep concern over the escalation of brutal attacks on civilians. In the last six weeks alone, more than 200 civilians have been killed in Ituri in a series of attacks by non-state armed groups, which also destroyed 2,000 houses and closed or demolished 80 schools.
In response to the ongoing violence, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a “state of siege” for both Ituri and the neighbouring province of North Kivu in 2021. The country has the largest population of internally displaced people on the African continent, with at least 5.6 million people having fled their homes.
The attacks have not only affected villages but also shelters housing internally displaced people. The Plaine Savo camp has been repeatedly attacked by armed groups, including those affiliated with CODECO, leaving families dead and shelters burned to the ground. The situation in Ituri remains dire, and residents are calling for an end to the violence that has plagued their communities for far too long.