By Erikas Mwisi Kambale
BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -Suspected Islamist militants killed 26 people with machetes in an overnight attack in the town of Oicha in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, its mayor and the army said on Tuesday.
They attributed the killings to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group originally from Uganda, now based in eastern Congo, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group and mounts frequent attacks.
Local army spokesperson Antony Mwalushayi said the attack against civilians in Oicha was believed to be retaliation for recent army strikes against the ADF.
The attackers carried out the slaughter with machetes instead of guns, so as not to alert nearby troops, he told reporters.
“The enemy was divided into three groups. The first group was there to prevent the intervention of the military, the second group was there to loot the stores of the civilian population and the third group was there to silently slaughter our population with machetes,” Mwalushayi said.
The army had received information ahead of the attack that the insurgents they had bombed in the Tingwe forest would be coming to Oicha to seek revenge, Mwalushayi said during a press briefing in the town.
Army commanders were in Oicha to discuss this threat with local troops just hours before the attack took place, he said.
The attack occurred around 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Monday, said Nicolas Kikuku, the mayor of Oicha, which is in North Kivu province. Four people were wounded and taken to hospital in addition to the 26 killed, he told Reuters.
Local civil society activist Janvier Kasereka Kasayirio said that local youths were angry on Tuesday after police took the bodies away to the morgue, and that young protesters burned several vehicles at an aid distribution site.
The U.N. World Food Programme said three trucks used by its contractors had been torched, and that it was investigating the incident. Food distributions have been suspended and will resume once the security situation has been assessed, it added.
Uganda and Congo launched a joint military operation two years ago to try to root out the ADF. Uganda’s army said last month it had killed more than 560 fighters and destroyed some camps.
“As I speak, our troops are in physical contact with the enemy,” said Congo’s Mwalushayi.
(Reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kambale, additional reporting by Sonia Rolley; writing by Nellie Peyton and Sofia Christensen; editing by Mark Heinrich, Bernadette Baum and Sandra Maler)