At least 23 members of the Hema ethnic group have been killed since Friday in renewed violence in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri province, a leader of the group said in a statement Monday. A high-ranking provincial official, who did not wish to be named confirmed the toll since Friday and added that 10 fighters from a rival ethnic group, the Lendu had died.
Hema herders and Lendu farmers have been locked in violence in Ituri province for decades, with tens of thousands killed from 1999 to 2003. The conflict in the area, part of DRC’s deeply troubled eastern region that includes the restive North and South Kivu provinces, triggered a European Union-led military operation in 2003.
The intervention saw a major drop in the intensity of the violence, but the conflict never came to a total halt, with occasional flare-ups still wracking the area. From February 2 to 4, another 12 people were injured, while “hundreds of houses were set on fire in several villages”, said Hema spokesman Hadji Ibrahim Ruhigwa Bamaraki, who accused the rival Lendu of staging “a terrorist aggression”.
The provincial said that in addition to the toll given by the Hema leader, 10 Lendu combatants had been killed. “Four people (from the Hema community) died this morning. A police captain died from gunshot wounds and three police were injured,” the official said. “Between 500 and 800 families have been displaced,” the official said. The Hema community on Monday began two days of mourning, putting a stop to all commercial activity.