23 dead in new massacres in DR Congo's east

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - Twenty-three people have been killed in two new massacres blamed on Ugandan rebels in the restless east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a regional official told AFP on Thursday.

The killings are the latest blamed on the rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who are accused of murdering more than 300 people in seven months of massacres in and around the major trading hub of Beni in DR Congo's North Kivu province.

The latest massacres occurred near the town of Mbau, not far from Beni, regional administrator Amisi Kalonda told AFP by telephone.

The Muslim rebels of the ADF launched an insurgency in neighbouring Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni in the mid-1990s and later established bases on the Congolese side of the border.

The security situation in the region has dramatically deteriorated since last week, with five killed near Beni on Monday and seven killed in a similar massacre on Friday.

"We are outraged by the massacres," said Teddy Kataliko, president of Beni's civil society body which this week initiated a protest movement against the government's incapacity to protect the population.

Beni, which has a population of half a million, has been paralyzed by the protest action, with hundreds of residents marching through the streets on Tuesday, chanting slogans against authorities before being dispersed by police.

Authorities urged people to return to work, but strikes continued.

On Wednesday the protests spread to the nearby cities of Oicha and Butembo. Witnesses said Oicho was mostly shut down by the action, but some shops remained opened in Butembo on Thursday.

North Kivu has been torn apart by conflict for over two decades and the UN's Congo mission has stationed most if its 20,000 peacekeepers in the region.

The latest bout of violence has come after the arrest of the ADF's chief Jamil Mukulu in Tanzania in April.

After spending less than 24 hours in Beni, the Interior Minister Evariste Boshab returned to the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday without announcing any new measures to boost security. He urged people to have trust in the authorities.

Last December, UN troops launched a joint operation with the Congolese army against the ADF. While a degree of calm was restored, the intervention failed to bring a halt to the killings of civilians -- mostly by machete.

In a report published Wednesday, the UN said the ADF had committed "systematic and extremely brutal" attacks in the last three months of 2014 that could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Two Tanzanian UN soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, were killed in an ambush near Beni on May 5, in which 13 other UN troops were wounded.

The UN mission has a special mandate to take offensive action against the wide range of militant groups active in the east of the country.