Revealed: Democratic Republic of Congo’s ‘invisible’ massacre

Sunday February 10 2019

Abyssine Miniunga, internally displaced on an

Abyssine Miniunga, internally displaced on an islet in the middle of the Congo River near Yumbi, poses near her shelter for a photograph on January 28, 2019. Several hundred displaced people have found refuge on the islets of the river, according to humanitarian actors on the ground. Mass killings have also been confirmed to have taken place in mid-December in Yumbi. PHOTO | AFP  

Yumbi. It was a bloodbath that happened out of sight of the rest of the world and was largely unnoticed even at home, occurring in the runup to fiercely-disputed elections.

Days passed before details began to trickle out about what had happened on December 16 and 17 in Yumbi, a remote territory in southwest DR Congo.

It was a whole month before a preliminary UN investigation said “credible sources” had found nearly 900 people were killed -- a figure later scaled back to 535 after bodies had been identified.

Some 16,000 refugees fled across the Congo river into the neighbouring Republic of Congo.

The authorities have characterised the violence as a spontaneous act -- long-simmering tensions between the Batende and Banunu communities that suddenly flared over the burial of a Banunu tribal chief. But when AFP visited the scene last week, sources said the violence was a carefully-planned massacre of the Banunu.

The attack was carried out using military-style tactics and some assailants were dressed in army uniforms, they said.

Some implicated members of the armed forces and the local authorities in the massacre.

Colonel Olivier Gasita, sent to the region on December 20 from Kinshasa, around 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the south, said: “The assailants were well organised. Clearly there was an organisation commanding them.” “Between 3,000 and 4,000 men attacked the area,” said Gasita, who has become Yumbi’s acting territorial administrator.

There was a “training camp” in the Yumbi region, he said, without giving its location.

Men in military uniform and armed with assault rifles gunned down Banunu people, said many survivors who had fled across the river to Makotimpoko in the Republic of Congo. The colonel spoke of “a three-column attack -- that’s a military tactic. That shows that military men, either deserters or demobilised men, were involved.”

“The soldiers were right in the front line,” said Bosukisa Montole, a refugee cradling his son, who had a bullet wound in the neck.

Another soldier, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP “around 30 troops” had directly participated in the violence.

He said that his unit, deployed in one of the four targeted villages, Bongende, received warning messages from members of the Batende just before the onslaught began.

“They called us to say that they were going to fight the Banunu,” the soldier told AFP, asking not to be named. (AFP)