Islamist militants are thought to be behind a brutal attack on a village in eastern Congo which left 18 people dead and a number of properties destroyed by fire.
Baeti village in North Kivu province came under siege on Wednesday last week, when militants burned a church and multiple local homes to the ground. Blame has been laid on an Islamist group called The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who have killed more than 1,000 civilians since the start of 2019 according to UN figures.
“It really creates pain in our hearts, a total panic in the village,” said Masisa Mushogoro, head of a development committee in Baeti, according to Reuters. “We don’t know if tomorrow the ADF will come back here again.”
Janvier Kasairio, a local representative for a civil society group, estimated that between 15 to 20 people were killed in the attack and said that many are still missing. "The army was alerted but did not intervene," he added. Approximately 40 houses were burnt down.
Just days later, on Friday, another similar attack took place in the village of Lisasa.
"Everything happened yesterday between 8pm and midnight – the armed men carried out a raid,” local leader Kalunga Messo told Reuters on Saturday. “They killed our brothers without mercy.”
Local administrator Donat Kibwana said the "preliminary death toll” was 21 - according to sources on the ground, many others were kidnapped during the attack.
Omar Kavota from local rights group Cepadho told AFP that the ADF's attacks against Christians are becoming more common. "During the month of October, the ADF has targeted Christian churches," he said. "This is not insignificant."
Last year, the Congolese army launched a large military offensive against the ADF, which caused the group to split up into smaller units and launch a spate of further attacks against the civilian population. The militants have been known to burn down entire villages, destroy health centres and schools, and abduct men, women and children.