UN blames DR Congo groups for 'Masisi massacre'

Monusco peacekeepers in Masisi, DR Congo - June 2012 A strong UN force helped defeat one rebel group which operated in Masisi territory last year

Rival ethnic militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo are believed to be responsible for mass killings reported in three villages in the east, a UN spokesman has told the BBC.

More than 70 civilians are alleged to have been summarily executed in late January and early February.

Col Felix Prospere Basse said tension between two Mai Mai groups in the mountainous Masisi area had resulted in a spate of revenge killings.

The UN is to visit the site on Friday.

On Thursday, a reconnaissance flight by Monusco, the UN mission in the country, discovered three villages burnt to the ground.

Most of the victims are reported to have been killed with machetes.

The UN estimates that more than 40 militias operate in eastern DR Congo, which is rich in minerals often exploited by the armed groups.

'Track them down'

"The villages are empty because the population has fled the area and we have observed three villages which have been burnt down," Col Basse told the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme.

There had been clashes between the Mai Mai FDC, an ethnic Hunde militia, and an ethnic Hutu group called the Mai Mai Nyatura, he said.

Congolese traders displaying their vegetables along the open-air market centre in Masisi, 88km (55 miles) north-west of Goma, DR Congo - October 2013 Many armed groups operate in Masisi territory - and some villages have become divided along ethnic lines

For decades, relations between the Hunde, Hutu and other communities have been soured by disputes, often over land, in the Masisi territory of North Kivu province.

Start Quote

We cannot be everywhere, every time”

End Quote Col Felix Prospere Basse Monusco spokesman

The recent trouble is believed to have started with the killing of two Hunde people by Mai Mai Nyatura fighters, Col Basse said.

This prompted a series of retaliatory attacks in the area which is dozens of kilometres away from a UN base, he said.

"Tomorrow [Saturday] we are going there because we are determined... to take appropriate action against those who have committed this crime, track them down and bring them to justice," the colonel said.

About 94% of Monusco's 19,000-strong force, which includes its new attack force tasked with neutralising armed groups, is based in eastern DR Congo, he said.

"Most of the time we arrive on time to prevent killing, but… we cannot be everywhere, every time," the Monusco spokesman said.

"And sometimes the reports come very late because these atrocities might be taking place in very remote areas and it takes time to know to be informed and be there."

At the end of last year, a UN brigade helped defeat the largest group in the east, the M23, which had operated in Masisi.

The unrest in eastern DR Congo began when some of the ethnic Hutu militants accused of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda fled into DR Congo.

Rwanda has consistently denied repeated accusations from the UN that it backed the Tutsi M23 rebels, whose uprising in North Kivu forced about 800,000 people from their homes.

A map from December 2012, a year before the M23's defeat, showing the different armed groups:

map showing rebel groups in eastern DR Congo

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