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Fifty-eight people have been killed in attacks in a restive province of eastern DR Congo, local officials said on Thursday, blaming a notorious militia.

Large numbers of the population have fled following the attacks in Irumu, a territory in the province of Ituri, provincial interior minister Adjio Gidi told AFP.

He blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which originated in the 1990s as a Ugandan Muslim rebel group and has been accused of killing hundreds of civilians since DR Congo’s armed forces launched a crackdown against them last November.

The attacks took place in a heavily forested area called Tshabi, a local resident said, adding that a number of people were feared kidnapped.

“People were killed with every sort of weapon, knives, guns,” a member of the Nyali community in Tshabi, Richard Balengilyao, told AFP.

The search effort was being complicated by thick forest, he said.

“Right now, the Congolese army, supported by local people, is still looking for victims in the forest,” he said.

“Seventeen people are listed as disappeared, but they have almost definitely been kidnapped.”

Minister Gidi said that 23 people were killed on Tuesday, and another 35 on Thursday.

“It was ADF, fleeing military pressure in (neighbouring) North Kivu province, namely in (the) Beni (region),” Gidi said.

“Our forces are already in the area and are in contact with the enemy,” he said without elaborating.

Reprisals

The ADF is one of more than 100 armed groups that trouble the eastern provinces of the vast Democratic Republic of Congo, many of which are the legacy of fully-fledged wars of the 1990s.

The group has been blamed for more than 1,000 civilian deaths in the Beni region of North Kivu province since 2014.

It has carried out hundreds of civilian killings since the army launched an offensive against it late last year, apparently as reprisals for the operation or to warn locals against collaborating with the army.

And five civilians were killed in fresh clashes between Congolese Tutsis and three other communities in the eastern South Kivu province, local sources said.

“We have registered the deaths of five civilians, all men,” the mayor of Minembwe, Gadi Mukiza, told AFP, adding that 400 families had fled the fighting.

The northern part of Ituri this year has seen brutal killings in the territory of Djugu, blamed on an armed group called the Cooperative for the Development of Congo, or CODECO, blamed on ethnic attacks.

A senior delegation from the central government was scheduled to arrive in Ituri on Friday to discuss the province’s security problems.

The delegation will include the interior and defence ministers, the army chief of staff and the head of internal intelligence, a government source told AFP.

President Felix Tshisekedi sent a group of former warlords to Ituri last month to convince CODECO to stop its attacks.

The armed political-religious sect is drawn from the Lendu ethnic group.

Conflict erupted between the Lendu, mainly farmers, and the Hema, herders and traders, in the gold-mining and oil-rich Ituri province between 1999 and 2003, killing tens of thousands.

The militia has for several months been divided, and some fighters have signed a commitment with the government to surrender arms.

A peace agreement was also signed earlier this year with another armed group in the province, the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI), formerly active in the south in Irumu territory.

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