- Government had described northeast raid as work of ‘jihadists’
- Senior peacekeeping officer says identifying group tricky
The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo raised the death toll from a rebel attack in the northeast to more than 50 and said the perpetrators may not have been Islamist fighters, casting doubt on a government claim.
“New information carries the number of victims to more than 50,” Mamadou Diallo, deputy head of the UN mission in Congo, told reporters Wednesday in the capital, Kinshasa. “Our teams are currently on the ground to confirm the figures.”
Government spokesman Lambert Mende had described the Aug. 13 attack on the outskirts of Beni, North Kivu province, as the latest in a series of massacres by “radical Islamists or jihadists” in the region. The provincial governor had estimated at least 36 people were killed.
“It is very difficult to identify who is actually committing this crime whether they are jihadists or whether they are traditional terrorists from this area,” General Rakim Ahmed, the chief of staff for the UN peacekeeping force in Congo, said via video-link at the same briefing. “We do not want to exactly categorize it as a jihadist killing.”
Congo, almost the size of Western Europe, is the world’s largest source of cobalt. For two decades it has struggled to defeat dozens of local and foreign militias in the east, which has deposits of tin, gold and coltan.
The attack was the latest in a string of raids in the northeast that have claimed more than 500 lives since 2014, according to human-rights groups. The government blames the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist insurgent group based in Uganda that has operated along Congo’s border since the late 1990s. A UN panel and an independent research group have said the origins of the violence are more complicated and that the ADF members and other armed groups, including some Congolese soldiers, have all been involved.