By BosNewsLife Africa Service
KINSHASA, DRC (BosNewsLife)-- The United Nations peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is reportedly investigating the death of nine Christians who were hacked to death by suspected Islamic rebels in the DRC's volatile east.
Local media reported that an evaluation mission of the UN force, known as MONUSCO, was expected to arrive near the massacre site amid public criticism about the failure of UN troops and the DRC army to prevent ongoing killings of civilians in the troubled African nation.
Rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist group, snuck into areas near the village Oicha, 30 km (19 miles) north of Beni, Tuesday, July 5, under cover of a heavy morning rainfall to attack civilians in their homes, confirmed Mak Hazukay, a local army spokesman. The victims included five women, Hazukay said.
Christian news service World Watch Monitor (WWM) cited a local pastor as saying that "all the victims, including an elder" from his church and the five women, "were Christians".
Local Christians said the assailants stormed the Tenambo, Nzanza and Mamiki communities, near an army base on the outskirts of the town of Oicha, between 4am and 6am local time.
Armed with guns and machetes, they looted homes, taking food and cattle as plunder, according to several sources.
The incident was confirmed by security forces and the Administrator of Beni territory, Bernard Amisi Kalonda, who said the death toll may climb higher as searches for victims continue.
Eastern DRC has seen several deadly attacks, with 1,116 killed between October 2014 and May 2016, according to local
non-governmental organizations. Another 1,470 people were reportedly abducted, while more than 34,000 families were forcibly displaced.
Rights activists also reported several cases of sexual violence against women and children.
"The area is nearly 96 per cent Christian, and the impact of the violence has been immense," WWM said.
Several armed groups prey on the local population and exploit mineral reserves, according to independent observers. Millions of people died in the region between 1996 and 2003 as conflict caused hunger and disease.
The Kinshasa government has blamed the ADF for nearly all of the attacks near the town of Beni since 2014. The group has operated near the Ugandan border since the 1990s and funds itself by illicitly trading in timber and gold.
However, several rights activists and analysts say that other armed groups, including Congolese army soldiers, have also been involved in attacks against the local population.
Last month, a U.N. panel of experts accused the former commander of army operations against the ADF, Muhindo Akili Mundos,
of financing and equipping the group before he was transferred to other duties in June 2015.
Mundos has reportedly denied the allegations.
However analysts also suggest that poor intelligence and insufficient resources have hampered efforts by Congolese and U.N. peacekeeping forces to end the repeated killings, most carried out at night with machetes and hatchets, near Beni.