Survivors speak about DR Congo ethnic attacks

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Machete-wielding attackers descended on Esther Nzale’s village in north-eastern Congo eight days ago, setting houses on fire and hacking to death her husband and others.

“Some people were burnt alive inside the houses,” Nzale said from a camp for displaced persons more than a dozen kilometres away. “They killed people with machetes and we don’t know what they did with the bodies.”

Nzale comes from Kpatsi, a Herma herder village attacked last week by armed men believed to be a rival Lendu farming community.

Civil society groups said resurgent violence in Ituri province, long a flashpoint for ethnic tensions in Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile east, killed at least 240 people since last week and the toll is expected to rise.

More than 300,000 others fled their homes, according to the United Nations.

The violence has reawakened painful memories of clashes between Hema and Lendu from 1999-2007 that resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths. Among the causes were disputes over grazing rights and political representation.

After that ended, Iturians experienced a decade of relative respite from ethnic violence, though local militias continued to battle government forces and prey on people.

Fighting between Hema and Lendu flared again in late 2017 and early 2018, killing about 300 people before a fragile calm descended.

Last week four Lendu traders were killed in attacks the community blamed on the Hema, which locals say sparked off violence.

Nzale fled Kpatsi with the surviving members of her family. They found shelter under white and blue tarps in a makeshift camp in Ituri’s capital, Bunia.

In the nearby village of Tche, 161 bodies were found in a single mass grave.

“They were all burnt down and these hooligans are still there now,” said Etienne Kadho, a 59-year-old who fled from Malili 2, rattling off a list of five villages attacked.

“The bodies are on the ground and they haven’t even thought of burying them.”