Sixteen people, including 12 civilians, were killed in a rebel attack on Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s restive east, witnesses told AFP on Sunday.
A doctor at the local hospital reported seeing 16 dead bodies, “including 12 civilians and four soldiers or rebels.” Eight people were injured, of whom five were civilians, in the attack late Saturday, September 22.
Update September 23 Military official Mak Hazukai told AFP at least 18 people – 14 civilians and four soldiers – were killed and nine people were injured in the attack.
“The territory and the city of Beni are facing ADF terrorism whose command structure is led by Ugandans,” Hazukai said.
The Beni region is under siege from the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group blamed for hundreds of civilian deaths over the past four years.
Foreign humanitarian workers have been stationed in Beni, in North Kivu province near the border with Uganda, since early August to deal with a new Ebola outbreak in the region.
“The surprise attack happened in the streets of Beni city,” the doctor told AFP. Four of the dead were killed while travelling in a taxi.
According to several witness accounts, the attack started around 8 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).
Heavy and light caliber gunfire was heard for several hours until after midnight. It was not known whether the army counter-attacked.
The rebels targeted areas near the center of the trading settlement of several hundred thousand inhabitants.
The ADF is a militia initially created by Muslim rebels to oppose Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, but also operates in the DRC.
The group has been in the east of the country since 1995 and are accused by the United Nations and Congolese authorities of committing a series of civilian massacres since 2014.
However, a 2017 report by the Congo Research Group at New York University concluded that Congolese Army commanders were responsible for orchestrating massacres in Beni from 2014 to 2016.
The Allied Democratic Forces were also blamed for an attack in North Kivu in December 2017 in which 15 Tanzanian U.N. peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers were killed.
North Kivu, one of the most populated areas of the DRC, is home to a number of armed groups that kill or abduct civilians.
Congolese troops were facing an offensive by a disparate coalition of Yakutumba rebels in the eastern province of South Kivu last week, according to military and civilian sources, and an army spokesperson confirmed to AFP the army had engaged the rebels.
In February the military said they had wiped out the Yakutumba with help from neighboring Burundi, where some of their number had taken refuge.
Meanwhile, on September 17, Chief Ndaye Kalonga Nsabanga surrendered in the Kasai region with hundreds of youth “fighters.” Nsabanga led a coalition of armed militia groups in DRC.
In August 2016, violence erupted in parts of Kasai between the security forces and armed supporters of a prominent chieftain known as Kamwina Nsapu, whose authority was not recognized by the government.
Further attacks and clashes claimed more than 3,000 lives and displaced 1.4 million people between September 2016 and mid-2017.
The unrest is another front in the push by rebels to oust President Joseph Kabila’s regime as the poverty-stricken DRC limps towards a much-delayed presidential election slated for December 23.
The former Belgian colony has not seen a peaceful transition of power since 1960.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on September 23 to add information from the military spokesperson and remove a reference to the “Allied Defence Forces.”