'Inadequate' response by peacekeepers to DR Congo massacre: UN general

Miriki, 110 kilometres (65 miles) north of Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where 15 people died overnight when Hutu rebels from Rwanda attacked civilians in the latest ethnic killings in the region on January 7, 2016 (AFP Photo/Kudra Maliro) (AFP/File)

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - South African peacekeepers in restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo responded inadequately to an ethnically-motivated attack by Hutu rebels in early January that left more than a dozen people dead, the head of the UN force said Wednesday.

"A slow response was noted that I, as head of the force, consider to be inadequate," General Jean Baillaud told a press conference in the provincial capital Goma, referring to an attack in Miriki village, where peacekeepers stationed about one kilometre (mile) away failed to intervene.

DR congo armed forces also failed to step in to stop the killings.

The overnight attack January 6 to 7 blamed on Hutu rebels from Rwanda -- grouped in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda -- was the latest assault on civilian members of the local Nande people, who are rivals of the local Hutu. It left 16 or 17 Nande people dead.

According to a witness, the victims were stabbed or shot.

The incident recalled one in June 2014 that saw the UN peace mission in DR Congo -- MONUSCO -- forced to offer a public apology and admit some responsibility in the deaths of 32 people after an attack in Mutarule village where neither MONUSCO troops nor the DR Congo army intervened though they were alerted.

Baillaud, who is the interim commander of MONUSCO, said "we must learn all the lessons, proceed with all the checks as to what happened."

The French general said it was then necessary to consider what actions can be taken to avoid such attacks in future.

The east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen armed conflicts over ethnic and land disputes for more than 20 years.

For several months Nande leaders in the Miriki region have opposed the return of displaced Hutus.

According to Baillaud, the latest killings will only exacerbate intercommunal tensions in the area.

On the night of the attack, according to a MONUSCO source, the UN peacekeepers in Miriki reportedly fired several flares in the expectation that DR Congo armed forces would intervene at the nearby camp for displaced Hutus.

A UN enquiry has been opened into the incident, according to MONUSCO spokesman Colonel Felix-Prosper Basse.

The results of the probe would determine "whether the (UN troops') response was inappropriate or tardy," he told AFP.