Civil society groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday said the number of people hacked to death in a grisly machete attack this weekend has risen to 51.
“Our team on the ground has counted 51 bodies slain with machetes,” said Teddy Kataliko, a member of a local alliance of NGOs and unions working in the town of Beni near the restive eastern border with Uganda.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the civil society groups’ toll was “impossible to objectively verify”. Saturday night’s attack was the latest in a string of killings that have left more than 650 people dead in and around Beni since 2014.
The army has blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The ADF is a militant group that operates in the border area between eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and southwestern Uganda, which is heavily involved in illegal mining activities.
The group has been active in DR Congo for more than two decades and is accused of extensive human rights abuses. The killings sparked rage among local residents who accused the government of failing to protect them.
The attack took place just three days after a visit by President Joseph Kabila to the area.
On Monday Kabila was in the regional capital of Goma for a meeting of security officials, and he was later due to visit Beni.
Army spokesman Mak Hakuzay told AFP that military units deployed in the area would be given new uniforms, because ADF rebels “have infiltrated” an area under the Congolese armed forces’ control.
Despite efforts by the international community and the Congolese authorities, the region has remained mired in violence since the end of the second Congolese war between 1998 and 2003.
A report published in March by the Congo Research Group at New York University, which looked into the massacres around Beni, claimed that soldiers from the regular army had also participated in the killings.