At least 64 people have been killed in Democratic Republic of Congo – hacked to death in attacks carried out by suspected rebels, it has been reported.
In what the government described as a massacre in revenge for military operations in the area, the machete attacks happened in the town of Beni in North Kivu on Saturday night but local officials believe the mounting death toll could eventually reach 75.
Three days of national mourning have been declared following Saturday night’s mass killing, the latest in a series of massacres that have left more than 600 people dead in and around the troubled town of Beni since 2014.
DRC troops have reportedly blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group known to operate bases inside neighbouring DRC.
Reagen Kyaviro told Al Jazeera he survived the massacre after the attackers had turned up outside of his house.
‘The guy in front turned his weapon on me,’ he said.
‘When I tried to run away from the house, he hit me on the neck with the side of his gun.
‘He took me by my shirt. I was forced to run. By chance, they did not follow me.’
Army spokesman Mak Hazukay earlier said the attack was carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a partly Islamist armed group of Ugandan origin.
The group has been present in DR Congo for more than two decades and is accused of copious human rights abuses.
Hazukay said the ADF rebels had ‘bypassed’ army positions ‘to come and massacre the population in revenge’ for military operations in the area.
The victims were found in Rwangoma, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Beni, according to government spokesman Lambert Mende.
Mende said the government has previously sought to ‘alert the world to the jihadist threat’ in DR Congo, adding: ‘In our
country, the armed forces of the DRC are alone in the face of the indifference of the international community’.
Around a hundred angry residents gathered in Beni to protest against the mass killing, carrying the body of one of the victims and shouting slogans against President Joseph Kabila, witnesses said.
Local human rights activist Jackson Kasereka said residents in north Beni were burning tyres in the streets.
‘The police have just taken the body off us but we will continue to protest. It’s not normal that they slaughter us like goats,’ said motorcycle taxi driver Georges Kamate.
‘Our government is incapable of keeping us safe!’ shouted another protester.
The killings came three days after Kabila visited the region, promising to do everything in his power to bring peace and security.