At least 16 people were killed and eight injured in an attack by suspected Allied Democratic Forces rebels in DR Congo’s North Kivu province, the military said.
Others remain missing after the ambush that took place Thursday on a road between the towns of Chanichani and Mayi-Moya, around 45 kilometers (30miles) north of Beni.
The civilians were traveling in a truck that was in a convoy with a military escort. When the convoy was attacked their truck, heavily laden with goods, overturned.
At least 16 people were killed, the chief medical officer of the Oicha zone, Dr. Jerome Kambale Munuambethe, confirmed. He said others are in critical condition.
“Most of those killed are farmers and traders who came for food,” Congo’s army spokesman Lt. Anthony Mwalushayi told The Associated Press. “We call for vigilance and to denounce any suspicious person.”
Resident Kambale Wa Tsongo narrowly escaped the attack.
“We were on our way when we heard the sounds of bullets … We saw the rebels dressed in green with scarves on their heads begin to shoot,” he said. He and the others threw themselves into the surrounding undergrowth to evade the attackers, he said.
To avoid increasing attacks, Chanichani residents are fleeing to the towns of Oicha and Beni. They’re appealing for the military to improve security in the region.
Residents of the Beni-Mbau area have called on the Congolese army to strengthen its presence in the Bambuba-Kisiki area where rebels are taking advantage of their absence.
“Elements of the army must be further reinforced in this part to bypass maneuvers of the enemy. The population has confidence in its army. It is ready to denounce any suspicious cases,” said Bravo Muhindo Vukyulu, a resident.
Eastern Congo has been mired in conflict for more than a quarter-century particularly near its border with Rwanda. Several different armed groups there have vied for control of the region’s mineral resources.
Earlier this week, suspected rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces attacked Chanichani.
The ADF, which traces its origins to nearby Uganda, has mounted an escalating number of attacks in and around Beni in the last several years even as the community was struck by an Ebola epidemic. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for some attacks carried out by ADF rebels, but the exact relationship between the groups is not clear.