At least a further nine people have been killed in another attack by suspected Islamist militants in the eastern extremes of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bringing the total killed in the past week to nearly 50.
World Watch Monitor reported last week that between 20 and 40 villagers had been killed in an attack late in the evening on 3 May in a village in North Kivu province.
Another attack late on 6 May in the province of Ituri, slightly further north, saw between nine and 15 killed, including the worship leader and deaconess of a local church. They were part of the mission organisation Eglise du Rocher, or Church on the Rock, which also lost a pastor and his wife to an attack in October 2014 in Cadeau. That church, and the school attached to it, have yet to reopen. The church has also since abandoned its mission amongst Mbuti Pygmies.
“We are heartbroken, questioning our faith, half-terrified, but determined, and carrying on,” said Mike Anticoli, the founder of Eglise du Rocher. “We are a small but growing church organisation, founded in 2005, and have 13 churches and three ministry training schools in the danger zone of North Kivu. We may be targeted due to the fact that we train local leaders and aspiring missionaries from several churches and denominations.”
The deaconess, Éva Makanaiye, 40, leaves behind five children: Eva-Mamulu, 12; Alima-Franchine, 9; Sami-Sumbuka, 7; Unamosi-Jouele, 4; and Amali-Daniel, 2. The worship leader, identified only by her first name, Rose, also leaves behind five children.
“Our pastor ran away with two of his children. The whole night he did not know where his wife was, or his three other children. People spent the night in the jungle under heavy rain. This morning our pastor came back and found his wife and children all alive. Praise God!” Anticoli said.
We are heartbroken, questioning our faith, half-terrified, but determined, and carrying on.
– Mike Anticoli, Eglise du Rocher
The attack on 6 May lasted just 45 minutes, before the attackers fled to hide in the bush, a local source told World Watch Monitor.
Locals expressed anger at the failure of nearby armed forces to intervene. The attack took place just 300 metres away from a Congolese army base and 500 metres from a UN army base. Locals said they had earlier alerted soldiers about “suspicious movements” nearby.
A spokesman from the Congolese army said they had not been able to intervene because the attack took place at night and was over quickly.
Teddy Kataliko, a representative from the Civil Society of Beni, asked for “a parliamentary investigation commission to clarify the responsibilities.”
Locals are blaming the attack on Muslim Defense International, formerly known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces, but the group has not yet claimed responsibility.
“It is clearly evident that this is a terrorist act to clear Christians out of a gigantic area of eastern Congo,” said another local source, who did not wish to be named. “A huge area south of Eringeti was already abandoned. Now people from a huge area north of Eringeti are fleeing. These are almost all Christians.”
MDI, a 20-year-old alliance of Ugandan militants, was first linked with former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. It has long been active in the eastern regions of neighbouring DR Congo, and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians since 2014, according to the UN.
MDI has repeatedly attacked the majority-Christian population in eastern DRC for years. Kidnapping and murder are common. It is alleged to have support from the Islamic government of Sudan, an assertion made by the Uganda government and backed by Western diplomatic sources. The group is accused of waging a proxy war for Sudan against Uganda as retribution for Uganda’s support of secessionists who broke away to form the nation of South Sudan in 2011.
MDI is known to have attracted foreign recruits and to have forced Christians to convert to Islam.
The local population in the related area is overwhelmingly Christian (95.8%) and the impact on them has been immense. After the 3 May attack, World Watch Monitor heard from a pastor in the area, who said the people are terrified but that while some contemplated fleeing again, others have opted to stay in the hope that things will return to normal.
In a letter released a year ago, the Bishops of the Province of Bukavu in eastern DR Congo denounced a “climate of genocide” and the passivity of the Congolese State and international community.
“Does the situation have to deteriorate even more before the international community takes measures against jihadism?” asked the Bishops in May 2015, according to whom “a strategy of forced displacement of populations is taking place in order to gradually occupy the land and install outbreaks of religious fundamentalism and terrorist training bases”, the Catholic news agency Fides reported.
Omar Kavota, Chief Executive of the Study Centre for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights told Radio Okapi the international community must intervene.
“We are very concerned about this growing insecurity in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri,” he said. “In the past week, nearly 50 civilians were killed. We are asking for international solidarity that finally people in this part of the country can be safe from threats and live in peace and lasting security.”
Some graphic images emerged after the 3 May attack, showing the bodies of the women and children killed.
Radio journalist Yassin Kumbi told French-language news media: “I’m used to these attacks, since 2014, but I must admit that I discovered carnage when I arrived in Eringeti. I was particularly shocked by the fact that most of the victims were women and children. The smallest could have been only a few months [old].”
Eight women – two of them pregnant – and four children died, according to official figures.
“I saw pregnant women and children slaughtered!” one local said.
Kumbi added: “I spoke to survivors, who managed to escape. They were traumatised and did not expect at all the attack. Announcements were made on local radio to say that the area was under control and that there had been no attack in the area of Beni for about a month. But just after these announcements, the first attacks occurred in Kamangu, 11km from Eringeti. The upsurge in attacks suggests that the attackers wanted to show that they were still there and ready to strike anytime.”