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Mass jailbreak as DRC violence worsens

About 370 prisoners escape attack on jail in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, after 10 days of gruesome violence

Armed men raided a jail in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern town of Butembo  late on Saturday night, releasing hundreds of prisoners, military sources said.

The Congolese army and the town's mayor confirmed the raid, but said that there were conflicting reports as to who was responsible for the incident.

About 370 prisoners were freed, but 20 were recaptured by Sunday morning. No injuries were reported in the incident.  

The North Kivu province of the nation’s east has been hit by gruesome violence over the last 10 days, with officials and local rights groups saying that about 80 people have been killed.

The Congolese government, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations and have all blamed the attacks on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan armed group, but some locals say the incidents were likely perpetrated by unrelated bandits. The ADF has terrorized the area for much of the last two decades.

Al Jazeera was not able to contact the ADF or confirm its alleged role in the incidents at time of publication.

Some analysts have observed that victims may be hesitant to identify their attackers as ADF fighters for fear of reprisals.

On Thursday, about 26 people were slaughtered with machetes in the northeastern city of Beni. On Saturday, another 24 people, mostly women and children, were killed in Eringeti, 30 miles from Beni. The assailants, used machetes, axes and hoes to kill them, according to the NGO the Civil Society of North Kivu.

Several children had their heads “bashed against the walls,” the NGO said in a press release.

Eringeti’s mayor says the attack on the prison was not conducted by ADF but by unaffiliated bandits.

"The mayor said the attackers were speaking Nande, suggesting they were Mai Mai [fighters] or bandits, and not ADF fighters who were more likely to speak Luganda or Swahili." 

Luganda and Swahili are the most common languages in Uganda.

Local government officials told Al Jazeera that the region's jails only held about 74 ADF fighters, because they are known to fight to the death rather than face capture. 

Whoever is responsible for the incident, many say it will add to a growing sense of fear and insecurity in a region where hundreds have already fled their homes to escape the violence of the last 10 days. 

On Saturday, Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the Congolese government, said his government believed the upswing in violence suggested that the ADF had changed tactics.

Meanwhile, the head of MONUSCO, the U.N. mission in the DRC, denounced the escalating tensions, calling for "this sequence of violence, killings, murders and violations of human rights in the territory of Beni" to stop immediately.

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