The New Year started in distress for Congolese civilians as militia members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) butchered at least 39 people while 13 others were injured, between Monday and Wednesday, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The latest attacks took place in the villages of Luyuyu, Ngolombe and Kishenya in the locality of South Bamuguba in Shabunda, South Kivu Province.
The DRC Armed Forces, FARDC, are reportedly strengthening their presence in the areas as remote villages have been targeted by the militia since the beginning of January.
FARDC Spokesperson in South Kivu, Lt. Col. Vianney Kazalama, told The New Times yesterday that the militia killed many civilians and fled to the surrounding Shabunda forest .
"Shabunda is an enormous forest area and fighting the FDLR here is not easy at all. They come and attack and run back into the forest. They lay ambushes and run," Kazalama said during the interview.
"We are gathering people into major trading centres from where we can ably protect them".
Covering over 25,000 square kilometres, Shabunda is the largest territory in South Kivu Province. There is no telephone or radio communication but have few and scattered landing strips that keep the territory from being completely cut off from the rest of the vast country.
"The forest goes up to the Maniema and operations against FDLR there require specialised air operations and special commando forces. The population is really suffering!" Kazalama noted.
For the past 17 years, FDLR, which is composed of some elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, has a history of attacking civilians, killing, raping, pillaging and disintegrating families in the DRC.
It is also often accused of forcefully recruiting children and taking civilians hostage.
The continued slaughter of innocent civilians comes just days after the release of FDLR leader Callixte Mbarushimana by the International Criminal Court (ICC), after the Hague-based court refused to prefer charges against him.
Mbarushimana, who was freed towards the end of last year, is the Executive Secretary of the outfit and is a key mobiliser of funds to finance the insurgency.
The group's other leaders, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, the president and vice-president, respectively, remain in custody in Germany over similar charges.