U.N. peacekeepers find mass graves in DRC amid spike in militia violence

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Jan. 19 (UPI) — U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have found mass graves containing the bodies of 49 civilians in the African nation’s northeastern province where officials say residents face militia violence daily.

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, announced the gruesome discovery to reporters during a press conference Wednesday, stating the bodies were found in two mass graves in Ituri Province.

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The bodies of 42 civilians, including that of 12 women and six children, were found in the village of Nyamamba, with the second mass grave containing the bodies of seven men found in the village of Mbogi. Both villages are about 19 miles east of the province’s capital of Bunia.

The bodies were found amid a spike in violence between the farming Lendu people and the traditional Hema herders.

The two sides have been warring for decades but experienced a relative calm until 2017 when renewed fighting, fueled by historical anger, began and which has increased since over control of Ituri’s vast minerals, including gold, the U.N. refugee agency said in a report on Tuesday.

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Haq said the security situation has further deteriorated recently in the province, resulting at least 195 civilians killed and 68 injured along with 84 people abducted since December, with several of the incidents blamed on the CODECO and Zaire militias.

CODECO is a coalition of Lendu militias while Zaire is mainly composed of members of the Hema community.

Haq said peacekeepers launched a patrol to the region were the bodies were discovered after receiving reports of attacks on civilians by the CODECO militia over the weekend.

The U.N. refugee agency said in its recent report that people in Ituri are subjected to daily attacks by the militias. On Jan. 8, at least 25 people, including five children, were killed when armed groups attacked several villages in the province.

Last February, some 62 people the Hema ethnic community were killed by CODECO in the province, months after it committed four attacks in November, killing 58 people.