Rebels killed 26 people with machetes in an attack in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo as the authorities in Kinshasa demanded the recall Thursday of the top U.N. human rights official in the country.
The massacre in the town of Beni calls into question claims by the authorities that Ugandan rebels of the ADF-NALU, who have been terrorizing the east of Congo for the last two decades, were all but defeated.
It comes as the Congolese government -- which has been fighting the rebels alongside a contingent of U.N. peacekeepers -- declared the U.N.'s top human rights official Scott Campbell "persona non grata", after a U.N. report published Wednesday denounced rights violations by the police.
The bloody attack happened in the Ngadai area on the northern edge of Beni, a town of half a million people mostly from the Nande ethnic group, which is a major hub for wood destined for Uganda.
The rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda have committed numerous atrocities since they were chased into neighboring Congo by the Ugandan army in the 1990s.
Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Hamuli, spokesman for the DRC army in strife-torn North Kivu province, said that "26 people were killed with knives and machetes. I confirm that it was a terrorist attack by the ADF."
Eric Katasomia, a journalist with Radio Television Rwanzururu (RTR), told AFP that he saw 24 bodies being taken away from the scene, among them several children and a soldier.
Civil society groups in the North Kivu region, which has been ravaged by conflict for more than 20 years, had warned of mounting violence by the groups. The Congolese army, supported by U.N. peacekeepers from the MONUSCO stabilization mission had dealt the rebels a series of severe blows earlier this year.
But the rebels have begun to recover, attacking isolated villages again, according to an NGO in Beni, a day's drive from the regional capital Goma.
Nine people, including children, were killed at Oicha near Beni in an attack blamed on the ADF-NAL on October 10.
A U.N. source deplored Thursday the "return of atrocities against civilians, which as well as the latest killings was accompanied by the rape of more than 50 women in North Kivu and in neighboring Orientale Province" in one week.
The source also condemned the "lack of attention" which the U.N.'s military force has given to the problem.
Lieutenant Colonel Felix-Prosper Basse, military spokesman for MONUSCO, said on October 8 that ADF-NALU still had a "capacity for nuisance" as long as their leadership was not "decapitated".
Since the death at the end of August of General Lucien Bahuma, who commanded the Congolese army in the region, "nothing has been done against the ADF-NALU", an expert on the area, who did not want to be named, told AFP. He said the latest attack was a "big blow" for the army which had thought it had finished with the rebels.
Led by Jamil Mukulu, a Christian who converted to Islam, the ADF-NALU has hidden out in the Ruwenzori mountains along the border with Uganda for nearly two decades.
The rebels, who have been accused of serious human rights violations including using child soldiers, have financed themselves by trafficking gold and wood. They began to lose their main bastions to the army and the U.N. from January and were targeted by UN Security Council sanctions in July.
U.N. humanitarian chief in Orientale Province, Maurizio Giuliano, feared that the rebels could further destabilize the vast region rich in minerals.
"We are very concerned about the protection of the civilian population in the area. We are also trying to gather information to gauge the extent of the displacement caused by these attacks, so we can devise a response to the humanitarian needs."
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