Children among 21 victims of brutal Democratic Republic of Congo attack

KINSHASA (AFP) - The bodies of at least 21 people, including women and children, were found after an attack in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN peacekeeping mission there said on Monday, Dec 16, 2016.

Girls were believed to have been raped and decapitated while a child was also dismembered in a wave of violence in North Kivu last week, Monusco said in a statement.

A local civil society organisation blamed the rampage on the Muslim Ugandan rebel group ADF-Nalu, one of the oldest but least known armed organisations based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The victims, including women and children - the youngest of which is thought to have been only a few months old - were hacked to death on December 13 and 14," the statement said.

"Three girls under 18 are reported to have been raped by the attackers and then beheaded. The mutilated and dismembered body of a child is said to have been found in a tree, in the village of Musuku." The attacks took place in several villages near Beni, a town which lies about 250km north of the provincial capital Goma, Monusco said.

The UN peacekeeping force, one of the world's largest, has been tracking down armed groups in the region in recent months but did not provide details on who the attackers might be.

However, the North Kivu Civil Society umbrella organisation swiftly issued a statement charging that "the carnage was perpetrated by ADF-Nalu's Ugandan rebels".

The group urged Monusco to urgently launch a military operation against the rebels, which has been based in the mountainous area near the Ugandan border since its creation in 1995.

The UN mission said in its statement that an investigation had been opened and reinforcements dispatched to protect the civilian population in the area.

A special intervention brigade with an unprecedented offensive mandate last month helped the Congolese army clinch a rare triumph by crushing the Rwanda-backed M23 rebel outfit.

The unit last week set its sights on the FDLR, a Rwandan rebel group that includes the remnants of the militia who carried out the 1994 genocide and whose continued existence has poisoned relations between Kigali and Kinshasa for years.

The UN intervention brigade has promised to rid the Kivu region, which includes some of the continent's most impenetrable jungles, of the dozens of shady armed groups and criminal gangs that have been active there for years.

Speaking last week from Goma after announcing that operations against the FDLR had begun, Monusco force commander Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz said ADF-Nalu was next on the list.

ADF-Nalu stands for Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda and is considered the only Islamist organisation in the region.

In a report released a year ago, the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group said the group "has shown remarkable resilience attributable to its geostrategic position, its successful integration into the cross-border economy and corruption in the security forces".

The group is led by Jamil Mukulu, a Christian convert to Islam, and has never really managed to take its fight against President Yoweri Museveni's regime to Uganda.

Some observers have voiced concern that ADF-Nalu could become a link in the growing network of radical Islamist groups in East Africa.