Rebels connected to 1994's Rwandan genocide are suspected in brutal killings of villagers in a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, signaling possible retaliation against a crackdown by UN and Congolese forces.
The Associated Press reports that 29 people are confirmed dead in a weekend massacre in the volatile South-Kivu region of eastern Congo. Assailants armed with machetes, hammers, and sticks targeted three villages near the towns of Walungu, but their motive for the attacks was unclear, the AP reports.
"The paranoia that this killing spree has instilled in the local population is causing many to flee the area," said [UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman Samuel] Zungrana.
[Monday], a platoon of U.N. peacekeepers arrived in Walungu, about 1,100 miles east of Kinshasa, the Congolese capital. They found letters left by the attackers identifying them as Rwandan militia, who have been operating on Congolese soil since being pushed out of their country following the genocide in 1994, said Maj. Gabriel de Brosses, the spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo.
The AP also reports that villagers said that 12 people were abducted in the ambush, but aid workers were unsure if the bodies of 12 people found nearby were those of the hostages.
Agence France-Presse writes that the attacks were a reprisal for an April crackdown by UN and Congolese forces against Hutu militia, which included the destruction of a rebel camp. UN forces that were patrolling the area over the weekend reportedly found leaflets proclaiming revenge for the offensive in two of the villages, promising more retaliation to come. AFP reports that local residents are growing increasingly concerned by the apparent inability of UN peacekeepers and the Congolese military to rein in the violent rebel groups.
"All the victims were killed or wounded in their sleep ... the attackers accomplished their task with the help of axes, bayonets, knives and clubs to avoid firing firearms which could have alerted locals to their presence." ...
Constantin Charundagwa, a resident of Kaniola, said locals today felt badly let down by both the UN and the army.
"They roll past in their armoured vehicles here but are incapable of putting an end to the exactions and disarming the groups who are spreading terror throughout the region," he said.
According to AFP, the weekend's bloodshed was the worst outbreak of violence in the area in almost two years, when 59 people were killed by suspected Rwandan rebels in separate 2005 incidents.
Rwandan Hutu rebels - numbered by the United Nations at more than 10,000 - have been operating in the forests and mountains of eastern DRC ever since the genocide of at least 800,000 mostly minority Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
Some of the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] members are accused by the Rwandan government of taking part in the genocide.
According to Reuters, the UN, which voted this month to extend its peacekeeping mission in Congo until at least the end of the year, is currently assisting the nation's military in tracking down the assailants.
A spokesman for the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUC, confirmed that its troops were providing support for the Congolese army operations.
Attacks by rebels and renegade militias in eastern Congo have persisted despite historic U.N.-supervised elections last year which crowned a peace process ending a 1998-2003 war in the vast, mineral-rich former Belgian colony.
The first free vote in more than four decades was won by incumbent President Joseph Kabila.
The UN mission itself has come under fire amid allegations that in 2005 some of its Pakistani peacekeepers stationed in the area traded weapons for gold with the very same militia they were tasked with disarming, the BBC reports. When the UN sent an internal oversight team to investigate the matter, it resulted in a standoff between the investigators and the peacekeepers.
At first the Pakistani battalion there cooperated with [investigators]. But when they attempted to seize a computer with apparently incriminating documents on it a stand-off ensued.
The Pakistanis surrounded the UN police accompanying the investigators with barbed wire and put two armoured personnel carriers outside their living quarters at a nearby Christian mission.
Thoroughly intimidated, the investigators were airlifted out of Mongbwalu.
The BBC adds that new deployments of Pakistani UN troops are cycled in and out at six-month intervals, and current forces are not implicated in the ongoing investigation.