Six civilians and a rebel fighter were killed overnight during an attack by the Allied Democratic Forces armed group in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, civilian and military sources said on Tuesday, November 27.
The attack in the town of Oicha sparked a protest by several thousand conflict-weary residents of nearby Beni, the scene of frequent raids blamed on the ADF.
“The ADF raided overnight Monday,” Beni administrator Donat Kibwana told AFP. “They were repelled by the army but unfortunately they killed six civilians, and the army killed one ADF [fighter].”
Army spokesperson Captain Mak Hazukay confirmed the death toll from the attack, which comes less than four weeks before crucial elections set for December 23 in the vast former Belgian colony.
Jonas Mbulete, a resident of Oicha, which is around 30 km (18 miles) north of Beni, said the assailants burned five homes.
The government has often blamed the group for killings, robberies and kidnappings, but numerous other armed groups operate in the region and sometimes it is unclear who the true assailants are.
The Allied Democratic Forces militia was created in 1989 by Muslim rebels to oppose Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who was seen as hostile to Muslims.
The group absorbed other rebel factions and started carrying out attacks in 1995. It was forced westwards by the Ugandan army, and moved most of its activities to the DRC.
Often described as Islamist, analysts say the ADF’s motivations for attacks can vary in a region where poverty and instability are endemic.
They are thought to have killed at least 700 civilians and more than 20 United Nations peacekeepers.
The army of the Democratic Republic of Congo and troops deployed with the U.N. peacekeeping mission MONUSCO began a joint operation against the group two weeks ago.
On November 15, eight U.N. peacekeepers and 12 DRC troops died in a clash with ADF militants near Kididiwe after they launched the joint operation.
The ADF was also blamed for two raids on November 4 that killed at least seven people in the North Kivu region. Fifteen people, including children, were kidnapped in those attacks.
Civil society organizations in Beni held a demonstration on Tuesday against the violence plaguing the region.
Marchers carried banners reading “Enough is enough” and bearing slogans in support of the army and MONUSCO.
The protest comes as DR Congo prepares to elect a new president as the country aims to turn the page on Joseph Kabila’s nearly 18 years in power.
With reporting from AFP