(LONDON) — Dozens of people have been killed by rebel fighters in recent attacks on villages in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, an area ravaged by the world’s second-largest Ebola outbreak.
Militia wielding guns and knives raided several remote villages in the territory of Beni in North Kivu province last week, officials said. The recent attacks have been blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan-led rebel group that has long operated from Congolese soil in the mineral-rich borderlands with Uganda.
The Congolese government provided a civilian death toll of 62 in the the minutes of Friday’s cabinet meeting. However, a U.N. source told ABC News on Monday that the number of dead was up to 72 civilians and two Congolese soldiers. The discrepancy was likely due to the remote location of the attacks.
The area is also the epicenter of the country’s ongoing Ebola outbreak, which has infected 3,305 people and killed 2,127 of them since the start of the epidemic in August 2018. It’s the second-deadliest, second-largest Ebola outbreak on record anywhere and has been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations.
The insecurity in the region has hindered the Ebola response, with health officials requiring armed escorts to enter some areas. Previous attacks by rebel fighters have temporarily halted response efforts altogether.
It’s unclear whether the latest attacks have impacted the Ebola response teams. ABC News has reached out to Congolese health officials for comment.
According to Friday’s cabinet meeting minutes, the Congolese army is “dismantling the networks of collaborators and other agents” based on information provided by captured ADF fighters.
The Congolese armed forces launched operations targeting the ADF in Beni territory in late October. Since then, human rights groups say some 300 civilians have been killed in the area. The rebel group has been known to retaliate against civilians when under pressure from Congolese troops.
Last week’s attacks followed a period of relative calm in early January.
Mathias Gillmann, a spokesperson for United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said the mission “continues to support the Congolese army in its operations against the ADF — through logistical support, medical evacuations, exchange of information, joint planning of operations, joint patrolling and securing of areas recently liberated.”
“Beyond military operations,” Gillmann continued, “the fight against the ADF requires a comprehensive, joint strategy between the Government and MONUSCO, including at the political level, to counter the ADF and sustainably address insecurity in the Beni area.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.