“Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 36 people in an overnight attack on a village in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,” a local official and the head of a civil society group said on Thursday.
The sources said the assailants were believed to be members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan armed group based in East DRC that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and wages frequent deadly raids on villages.
The ADF, which was created in Uganda before moving to Eastern Congo in the 1990s, has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the last decade.
The attack targeted Mukondi village, around 30 km (19 miles) south of the city of Beni in North Kivu Province; an area plagued with rebel activity, which has been under military administration since 2021 in an attempt to restore order.
North Kivu Governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita on March 9, 2023, said tweeted that at least 36 people had been killed in the attack which started on Wednesday evening.
The head of a local civil society group, Mumbere Limbadu Arsene, gave a provisional death toll of 44, including women, children and the elderly, indicating that several villagers were still missing.
"The modus operandi suggests it was the ADF because no bullets were fired," he told Reuters via telephone, adding that some victims died trapped in their homes after attackers set them on fire.
The ADF often wage attacks using machetes and hatchets.
A DRC local army spokesperson, Antony Mwalushayi, confirmed in a WhatsApp message that there had been an attack but did not give a death toll.
Kakuke Kilalo Emmanuel, a resident of the nearby village of Kalunguta, said he went to Mukondi on Wednesday but turned back after he saw people in a state of panic as the attack was unfolding.
“Many Kalunguta residents have fled out of fear for their safety,” he added.
DRC's Government declared a state of siege in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri Province in 2021, in an attempt to stem rampant militia violence in the country's vast mineral-rich east.
But the killings and rebel activity have not shown any sign of abating.