Armed groups wielding machetes have reportedly executed at least 70 people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo from late January to early February in an effort "to spread terror," the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country said.
An estimated five million people have died from violence, disease and hunger in eastern Congo since 1996 amid a conflict linked to ethnic rivalries and competition for the region's deposits of gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt and uranium.
The U.N. Organization Stablization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) said it had received reports of gross human rights abuses including the reported summary killings at the Nyamaboko villages in North Kivu province. MONUSCO told the BBC that a reconnaissance flight to the area had discovered three villages burned to the ground. The mission said most of the victims appeared to have been killed with machetes.
Mission chief Martin Kobler issued a statement expressing "serious concern over the allegations of the gross human rights violations deemed unacceptable.”
“Any person involved in such acts should face justice," he said.
Kobler did not specifically name any of the more than 40 armed groups active in Congo. He said that the crimes had been "committed mainly by armed groups to spread terror.”
MONUSCO on Friday dispatched a team to North Kivu to investigate the mass killings.
The country’s largest rebel faction, the M23, was defeated by the Congolese army with U.N. support last year.
The U.N. accused eastern neighbor Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels, and in October the United States placed sanctions on Rwanda over the M23's alleged use of child soldiers.
But fighting rumbles on in North and South Kivu provinces, where rebels from Uganda continue to foment violence.
Twenty-two Congolese soldiers and 230 rebels have been killed in a nearly month-long offensive in the restive eastern region, the government said Friday.
Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse