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GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The U.N. Human Rights Office reports scores of civilians are being killed, wounded and abducted in worsening Inter-ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri Province.
More than 150 people have been killed in Djugu and Mahagi territories in Ituri province since early March, raising the number of civilian deaths this year to more than 200. In addition, the U.N. Human Rights Office reports scores of other civilians have been wounded and abducted in this inter-ethnic conflict.
The agency says attacks by CODECO fighters, a militia tied to the Lendu ethnic group, have escalated against the Hema people after their commander was killed on March 25 by the DRC Military.
U.N. human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says 23 civilians were killed in the latest attack last week in the village of Koli.
"The brutality of the attacks with perpetrators using machetes to kill women and children, raping, looting property, destroying houses, killing livestock, suggests the aim is to inflict lasting trauma on the affected populations, forcing them to flee, and so gain control over the territory, which is rich in natural resources."
The Lendu, who are mainly farmers and Hema, a herding and trading people, have been fighting sporadically for decades over valuable resources in their gold mining and oil rich province. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
After a decade-long lull, fighting between the two groups re-emerged in late 2017. A U.N. report published January, found that widespread systematic attacks by the Lendu against the Hema civilian population may constitute crimes against humanity.
Colville says the current leaders of the Lendu community have largely distanced themselves from the attackers. And, he notes the Hema and other ethnic groups in the area generally have shown restraint.
"But we are worried that if the attacks continue without a decisive response from the security forces to defend the civilian population, those communities may form self-defense militias and that would increase the likelihood of a descent into all out inter-communal violence, which would be absolutely catastrophic."
The U.N. Human Rights Office is calling on the authorities to strengthen the presence of security forces in the region. It is urging officials to thoroughly investigate alleged abuses and human rights violations and to hold the perpetrators to account.