At least 21 people were killed in eastern Congo in a gruesome attack by rebels, underscoring the fragile situation in the region where United Nations peacekeepers are struggling to put an end to years of uprisings.
The victims, including women and children, were hacked to death by al-Qaeda-linked Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces rebels, who were moving from areas near the gold-trading hub of Beni, about 150 miles from the regional capital Goma, to avoid an impending UN-backed offensive, said aid and military officials.
The rebel attack Friday and Saturday underscores the challenge facing Congo’s UN-backed troops, who recently launched operations against foreign rebels in the strife-torn region.
The UN’s peacekeeping mission Monusco, which is one of the world’s largest, on Monday sent attack helicopters and stepped up foot patrols near Beni after discovering the bodies.
“These atrocities will not go unpunished and the perpetrators will know no respite as long as they have not been held accountable for their actions before the law,” said Monusco head Martin Kobler.
The victims were most probably killed with machetes or knives, and a baby was found among the dead, Monusco said in a statement. Three girls are reported to have been raped before being beheaded.
Congo is about 10% Muslim, 70% Christian, 20% local folk religions. Uganda is 12% Muslim, 84% Christian, 4% local folk religions.