At least 10 civilians were killed in two attacks by militia gunmen in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where government forces have vowed to root out armed groups, sources said on Wednesday.
Seven people were killed in the city of Beni and between three and 14 were killed near Oicha, 30km away, according to the UN radio Okapi, which quoted the military, and local civil society.
The attacks late Tuesday were blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a militia of Ugandan origin targeted by an army campaign to restore peace to DRC’s troubled east.
Around 10 people were also kidnapped, sources in the local NGOs said.
In Oicha, “a Catholic church and 14 houses were burned down,” said civil society worker Teddy Kataliko.
“There’s been non-stop firing of heavy- and light-calibre weapons,” a Catholic cleric in Beni told AFP during the night. “I don’t know if we are going to get out alive.”
At least 60 people have been killed by the ADF since the offensive in North Kivu province began on October 30, according to a toll compiled by AFP.
Commentators see the massacres as warnings to the local population against collaborating with government forces.
Beni, a trading hub of around 100,000 people, lies in an area that has long been troubled by the ADF.
It also sits in the heart of DR Congo’s Ebola zone, and is the site of a base used by the UN’s peacekeeping force.
The latest attacks sparked an exodus in the Beni district of Boikene and in the Mavete district of Oichi.
Protests erupted against poor security, and members of the UN peacekeeping force, Monusco, were advised not to go out on the streets of Beni.
The force’s base is at the airport, around 10km from the city centre.
Kataliko said the authorities had been tipped off by local people as early as last Friday about the presence of armed men near Oicha.
“The public are afraid of the ADF infiltrating towns in the region,” he said. “You can sense when they are in the town. They are in disguise.”
Anger has been building since the start of the army’s campaign over the choice of tactics.
The offensive has focussed on the area around Beni rather than on the so-called “triangle of death” farther north around Oicha, where the ADF has its reputed stronghold.
The ADF’s historical roots lie in Islamist Ugandans opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The group has plagued the North Kivu region bordering Uganda since the Congo Wars in the 1990s, although its membership has since broadened to non-Ugandans and it has not carried out an attack on Uganda for years.
Hundreds of deaths have been attributed to the shadowy organisation since 2015.
The so-called Islamic State group has claimed some of the attacks ascribed to the ADF this year, but there is no clear evidence of any affiliation between the two groups.