BENI, Congo -- Rebels have killed 15 civilians and a soldier in the latest overnight attack on a village in eastern Congo, a local official said Tuesday, while frightened residents fled.
“They surprised the people in their homes,” the administrator of Beni territory, Donat Kasereka Kibwana, told The Associated Press, adding that the search for bodies continued.
The attack by Allied Democratic Forces rebels on Alungupa village, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) outside the often-targeted city of Beni, occurred while the president of the National Assembly was visiting the city and meeting with survivors of past massacres.
Jeanine Mabunda during her visit vowed that the assembly would create laws to augment the Congolese military presence in the Beni region. Residents have long accused the government in faraway Kinshasa of neglect.
Dozens of armed groups are active in mineral-rich eastern Congo. Attacks have caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and complicated health workers’ efforts to contain an Ebola virus outbreak in the region.
The latest attack sent people fleeing the village on foot toward Beni with few possessions.
“I was cooking for my children when I heard gunfire,” said Kavira Musienene, who was huddled with some survivors around Beni's administrative center. She said she fled into the forest.
“One of my friends was killed and I don't know if I will return,” she said.
She was baffled as to why such attacks occurred. “We don't want much, just peace,” she said. "We're just farmers and we don't understand why they are killing us.'
A local civil society group known as CEPADHO says ADF rebels have killed more than 450 people in the Beni region since October, when Congolese troops launched an offensive against rebels in the area.
Some residents late last year protested against both Congolese and U.N. peacekeeping forces, accusing them of not doing more to protect civilians.
Kibwana said Alungupa village is now under military control. The administrator appealed for calm and collaboration with authorities.