KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — A militia group armed with guns and machetes killed at least 10 people in intercommunal violence in southwestern Congo, local authorities said Saturday.
The attack is the latest episode in a deepening crisis that has been overshadowed by conflict on the other side of the vast Central African nation.
According to provincial government spokesperson Adelard Nkisi, a militia group known as the Mobondo attacked civilians and burned down several houses in the village of Ipongi, just over 230 miles (370 kilometers) south of the capital Kinshasa, on Friday.
An unknown number of people were tied up and kidnapped by the militia members, who fled into the bush, Nkisi said. The provincial government sent defense and security forces to restore security in the area.
Tensions flared in June 2022 over land rights and customary taxes in Congo’s southwest, between the Teke, historical inhabitants of the region, and farmers from various other ethnic groups including the Yaka, who settled near the Congo River more recently.
According to spokesperson Nkisi, Friday’s violence broke out after a leader of the Yaka-majority Mobondo militia was arrested and taken into custody in a town nearby.
The incident is the latest in a cycle of violence that killed at least 300 people between June 2022 and March 2023 amid disagreements between Teke and Yaka communities about tax increases and access to farming land, according to Human Rights Watch.
Symphorien Kwengo, vice-president of a regional civil society organization, called for community dialogue with the Mobondo militia to ease the deadly tensions in southwest Congo.
Meanwhile, an older, larger-scale conflict across the country displaced hundreds of thousands of people in 2022 alone, according to the UN refugee agency. In Congo’s northeastern provinces, close to the borders with Rwanda and Uganda, more than 120 armed groups continue to fight for control of valuable mineral resources and some to protect their communities. Frequent mass killings by rebel groups trigger exoduses of civilians, which in turn drive food insecurity, sexual violence, and the spread of disease.
Associated Press writer Zane Irwin contributed to this report.