By BosNewsLife Africa Service
GOMA, DRC (BosNewsLife)-- Thousands of people have fled an area in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after up to nearly 40 Christian villagers were hacked to death by suspected Islamic militants, Christians in the area confirmed.
The exact figure of the massacre remained unknown Saturday, May 7, but well-informed Christians suggested it was higher than the numbers claimed by DRC and United Nations officials.
Local administrator Bernard Amisi Kalonda told reporters earlier that more that 16 people had died in the attacks that began late Tuesday, May 3 in the Beni region of North Kivu province.
"Between 20:00 and 22:00 [local time] the enemy managed to get past army positions and kill peaceful residents in their homes, slashing their throats," he said. "The 16 bodies are in front of me, killed by machete or axe."
General Jean Baillaud, the military chief of the UN’s 20,000-soldier force in the DRC, reportedly confirmed at least 17 people had been killed.
However the news agency of well-informed advocacy group Open Doors, known as World Watch Monitor, quoted local sources as saying that at least 34 and possibly some 38 people had died including two elders and their wives of the evangelical CECA 20 (Communaute Evangelique au Centre de l’Afrique) Church.
A Christian missionary told the news agency that thousands of people have fled the region.
“It was eerie; hundreds of houses abandoned and thousands of people displaced,” the missionary was quoted as saying. “I saw four coffins and a funeral or two on the road. I saw people carrying their mattresses and things in cars, on motorcycles, on foot," the missionary added. “Hundreds of homes along the road are abandoned. Where there was thriving community, there is now a ghost town.”
World Watch Monitor said it was withholding the missionary’s name for security reasons. Another pastor, who was not named, reportedly said people were "terrified" but that at least some stayed behind in hope that the situation would normalize.
Officials were still investigating whether the killings were carried out by Muslim Defense International, formerly known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces. The 20-year-old alliance of Ugandan militants was first linked to late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
The Islamic militants have long been active in the eastern regions of neighbouring DRC and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians since 2014, according to the United Nations.
Militants have previously targeted the area where 95.8% is Christian, according to Open Doors estimates.
In a letter released a year ago, the Bishops of the Province of Bukavu in eastern DRC denounced a “climate of genocide” and the passivity of the Congolese State and international community.
“Does the situation have to deteriorate even more before the international community takes measures against jihadism?” asked the Bishops in May 2015, according to whom “a strategy of forced displacement of populations is taking place in order to gradually occupy the land and install outbreaks of religious fundamentalism and terrorist training bases.”