Bunia, DR Congo
Raiders killed at least 35 people including a baby in an attack on a gold mine in Ituri, in the strife-torn northeast of Democratic Republic of Congo, local sources said Sunday.
One local official, Jean-Pierre Bikilisende, of the rural Mungwalu settlement in Djugu, Ituri, said the CODECO militia had carried out the attack on the artisanal mine.
Bikilisende said the militia had attacked the Camp Blanquette gold mine and that 29 bodies had been retrieved, while another six burnt bodies had been found buried at the site.
Among the dead was a four-month-old baby, he added.
"This is a provisional toll," he said, as there had been other people killed whose bodies had been thrown down the mine shafts.
Several other civilians had been reported missing, he said. "The search continues."
Camp Blanquette was set up in a forest, far from the nearest military outpost, so help came too late, said Bikilisende.
Cherubin Kukundila, a civil leader in Mungwalu, said that at least 50 people had been killed in the raid.
Several people had been wounded, nine of them seriously. They were being treated at Mungwalu hospital, he told AFP.
During their attack, the raiders had ransacked shops, carried off what the miners had dug out of the mine and burned down houses, he added.
The Camp Blanquette mine lies seven kilometres (four miles) from Mungwalu.
Years of violence
CODECO -- the name for the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo -- is a political-religious sect that claims to represent the interests of the Lendu ethnic group.
The Lendu and Hema communities have a long-standing feud that led to thousands of deaths between 1999 and 2003 before intervention by a European peacekeeping force.
Violence then resumed in 2017, blamed on the emergence of CODECO.
CODECO is considered one of the deadliest of the militias operating in the east of the country, blamed for a number of ethnic massacres in the province of Ituri.
It has been held responsible for attacks on soldiers and civilians, including those fleeing the conflict and aid workers.
Its attacks have caused hundreds of deaths and prompted more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes.
Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province have been under a "state of siege" since May last year. The army and police have replaced senior administrators in a bid to stem attacks by armed groups.
Despite this, the authorities have been unable to stop the massacres regularly carried out on civilians.
Under pressure from local leaders in both Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu, who are boycotting parliament, DR Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi has decided to review the efficacy of the state of siege.
In April, 16 people, including nine soldiers, went on trial in DR Congo accused of selling weapons to CODECO. The trial is taking place at a military court in Ituri.