The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has sent attack helicopters and manned foot patrols into the country's strife-torn North Kivu province after discovering the bodies of 21 civilians brutally slaughtered, including babies, children and women, some mutilated, others raped.
Troops from the UN Mission of Stabilization in the DRC (MONUSCO) made the gruesome discovery on Friday and Saturday in Musuku village in the Rwenzori area of Beni sector.
The killers have yet to be identified, but unconfirmed reports and villagers interrogated in the area strongly suspect that this could have been the work of the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), two of several armed groups that have terrorized North Kivu for years.
"These atrocities will not [go] unpunished and the perpetrators will know no respite as long as they have not been held accountable for their actions before the law," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative in the DRC, Martin Kobler, said today in a statement, condemning the murders in the strongest terms.
The victims were killed with machetes or knives, and the youngest among the dead was only a few months old while three girls are reported to have been raped before being beheaded, MONUSCO said, stressing that the attack helicopters and foot patrols aimed to take control of the area and prevent a further deterioration of security for the civilian population.
"MONUSCO reminds all armed groups that the killing of civilian population, who are not party to the conflict /crises is considered a crime against humanity," the mission added.
Another armed movement in the eastern DRC, the M23 rebels, recently signed a peace agreement with the DRC Government after coming under attack from the army supported by a MONUSCO intervention force.
UN peacekeepers are now shifting their focus to other groups in North Kivu, including Mayi Mayi and the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) as well as NALU and ADF.
Fierce fighting has continued in the east even after various UN peace missions helped to bring relative stability to other areas of the vast country which was torn asunder by civil war from 1996 to 2003, in which well over 4 million people are estimated to have died, mainly from starvation and disease, in what is considered the deadliest conflict since World War II.