Civilians killed in rebel attack in eastern DRC
By Vatican News staff writer
At least 14 civilians were killed in an attack attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to news reports, the latest attack occurred on Friday in the town of Otomabere, in the Irumu territory of the Ituri province.
The violence forced the inhabitants of Otomabere to flee to neighbouring villages, as the attackers also set fire to several houses and 13 motorcycles, in addition to killing civilians, before disappearing.
Activities of armed groups in the east of the DRC
In recent years, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been challenged by rebel activity, despite security operations to stem the violence. Last May, the DRC government imposed a “state of siege” in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri to crush armed groups that plagued the area.
The ADF, linked to this latest attack, was historically a Ugandan rebel coalition, but currently has its bases in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, near the border with Uganda.
According to a 2021 report by the “Kivu Security Tracker” (A US-based monitor of violence in the area), over 120 armed groups are vying for control across four eastern provinces of the DRC: Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, and Tanganyika.
Last year, Ugandan and Democratic Republic of Congo forces (FARDC) launched an offensive to combat the ADF, which has been linked to attacks and killings of civilians in the region for over two decades.
Civilian populations threatened
In other recent reports of rebel activities, fighters said to be from another armed group, the March 23 Movement (M23) attacked an army position in the DRC late last month, triggering heavy fighting in Tshanzu and Runyoni, about 50 km northeast of Goma, the provincial capital.
Similarly, separate attacks on the villages of Masambo and Ngingi (about 31 miles from the city of Beni) linked to the ADF left at least a dozen civilians dead on the night of 3 April.
Following the string of attacks, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in a statement on Sunday, deplored that tens of thousands of people living in the North Kivu Province of the DRC have been forced to flee their homes due to the heavy fighting between M23 rebels and the DRC army in Tshanzu and Runyoni, as well as attacks on Masambo and Ngingi, thought to be carried out by the ADF.
The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimated that more than 10,000 people have crossed the border into Uganda in search of safety, while tens of thousands have been internally displaced as a result of the latest attacks. More so, over 467,000 forcibly displaced Congolese currently live in Uganda, many in situations wherein they cannot return to the DRC because of the continued danger.
Pope’s upcoming visit to DRC
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Kinshasa and Goma during his upcoming Apostolic Visit in July. The Holy Father will be in the DRC from 2 – 5 July before traveling to Juba, in South Sudan from 5 – 7 July.
The Pope has often expressed his closeness to the Congolese people, appealing often for an end to the violence, especially in the eastern region of the country.
In February, the Pope sent a message, signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi expressing his sorrow over the 1 February attack by armed militia on a site for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Plaine Savo Djugu territory, in the eastern province of Ituri. At least 60 people, including more than a dozen children, were killed in that attack, and more than 40 others were injured.
Bishop Willy Ngumbi Ngengele of Goma said the Pope’s July visit will be a moment of grace and blessing for the country which is in a “situation where it needs a word of consolation, reconciliation, peace, and solidarity.”
“The Holy Father is coming because he has compassion for us, he knows our situation; for he is a father animated by his love for us. May his visit help us be reconciled among ourselves, in order to work together to restore social justice, peace and charity,” said the Bishop of Goma in a recent interview with Vatican News.