Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 22 civilians with knives and machetes in an overnight raid on villages near the town of Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a local official said on Wednesday.
Just over three weeks ago the government declared martial law in North Kivu and Ituri, two provinces bordering Uganda, in an attempt to stem worsening bloodshed.
A four-month-old baby was found alive on the back of one of the victims, one of seven children from the same family believed to have been orphaned in the latest violence that hit a number of villages around 40 km (25 miles) east of Beni.
“They gave the baby to me to feed because she was crying,” the woman’s sister Kavira Mwisha said, holding the baby to her breast.
“I call on the government to end this war.”
Jean-Paul Katembo, head of the Bulongo commune, said the known death toll stood at 22. Several more villagers are believed to have been kidnapped, he said, blaming the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan militia active in eastern Congo since the 1990s.
In Bulongo village, puddles of red blood had stained the dirt street, which was scattered with single shoes, a ring of keys and other personal items lost during the attack.
Elsewhere, a group of men hacked graves into the earth to bury the victims as other villagers stood by and sang in mourning.
More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in Beni territory since November 2019, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, when the army began an operation aimed at ending the ADF’s insurgency.
The offensive uprooted the ADF from its bases and it split into smaller groups, but the armed group responded by stepping up reprisal attacks against civilians.
On May 17 Uganda announced it had agreed to share intelligence and coordinate operations against the rebels, but that it would not be deploying troops in Congo.