More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in fighting in the Beni region of eastern DR Congo since late October 2019, the Lucha civil society group said Tuesday.
The period marks the time since the army launched a major operation to stop a militia known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), in response to repeated massacres in the area since 2014.
“Rather than stopping the killing and neutralising the attackers, the military operations dispersed them over massive areas, where they continued to massacre civilians as they passed,” a spokesman for Lucha, one of the DRC’s biggest civil society groups, told a press conference.
“Since October 30, 2019, our movement has tallied 1,206 civilians killed in Beni and identified an expansion of the killing into the Rwenzori area and part of neighbouring Ituri province, areas that were once calm,” he added.
The ADF fighters are originally Ugandan Muslim rebels, who have put down roots over the border in eastern DRC since 1995.
They oppose the regime of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is running on Thursday for a sixth term in office.
But they have shunned attacks on Uganda for years, and are accused of turning their weapons on civilians as well as killing dozens in attacks on army troops and United Nations peacekeepers from the MONUSCO mission.
The deadliest of dozens of armed groups active in the Kivu region, the ADF has been trying to expand into Ituri province to the north.
Since the army intervention began in October 2019, ADF fighters have been operating in small mobile groups, according to a December UN expert report to the Security Council.
In recent months its attacks have shifted from the north to the southeast of the mountainous Rwenzori region on the Ugandan border, home to the world-famous Virunga national park.
On January 8, an army spokesman said that ADF fighters had executed 50 hostages as they fled an army offensive aimed at dislodging them from the area.