Armed gangs have killed a soldier and 18 civilians, including two children, in machete and gun attacks in volatile northeast DR Congo, officials said Tuesday.
Overnight, nine civilians were killed and four injured at Oicha Mabasele near the city of Beni by attackers linked to the Islamist-rooted ADF militia group, regional administrator Donat Kibwana told AFP.
At the same time, three civilians were killed, also by suspected ADF members, in nearby Eringeti, he said.
Dozens of militias operate in the North and South Kivu provinces of Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast country the size of western continental Europe.
The ADF, a group that arose in western Uganda in 1995, has been blamed for massacring hundreds of civilians, killing UN peacekeepers and DR Congo troops, and for a number of kidnappings of medical and other staff.
The army confirmed the attacks Tuesday and said it was hunting the assailants.
But locals were critical.
"We alerted the authorities about the presence of the ADF near Oicha several weeks ago," said local representative Noella Muliwavyio, adding the population has been "thrown into panic".
FLED FOR SAFETY
Resident Pascal Soli, a nurse, said he fled with his four children to the local hospital to hide when the shots rang out, and later found out his neighbour had been "slaughtered".
Several inhabitants of Oicha have fled their homes to the city of Beni, witnesses told AFP.
In neighbouring Ituri province, a soldier and six civilians were killed Tuesday in a machete attack by a militia fleeing an army offensive.
"Militia attacked the village of Fichama at dawn, killing seven people including a soldier," military spokesman Jules Tshikudi told AFP.
The attackers were armed with arrows and machetes, regional administrator Adel Alingi said.
President Felix Tshisekedi visited the volatile province earlier this month and ordered the army to launch a "large-scale" operation against militias there.
Local authorities say at least 160 civilians have been killed in Ituri since June 10 in clashes between armed groups.
The instability has forced more than 300,000 people to flee their homes, according to the UN refugee agency.
Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province are also trying to roll back an epidemic of Ebola that has claimed more than 1,700 lives since last August.