Women, children killed in new DR Congo attack

Beni (DR Congo) (AFP) - At least 22 people, most of them women and children, have been hacked and clubbed to death by Ugandan rebels in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of Congo just days after a similar massacre.

The new attack sparked calls for UN forces to protect the vulnerable local population, as the rebels who have terrorised North Kivu for two decades resist attempts to drive them out.

The latest violence on Friday evening in the town of Eringeti left 10 women, eight children and four men dead, local government official Amisi Kalonda told AFP.

"Most of the victims were killed with machetes, axes and hoes," the non-governmental umbrella group Civil Society of North Kivu said in a statement, which counted 24 dead.

Several children had their heads "bashed against the walls", it said, blaming the rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), the only remaining militia active in the region.

Kalonda, the government administrator for the area, said he was heading to Eringeti along with an army contingent.

Eringeti is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the town of Beni, a town of half a million where 26 people were slaughtered with machetes on Thursday in an attack also blamed on the rebels.

- 'Savagely executed' -

The Ugandan rebels have committed strings of atrocities since they were chased into neighbouring Congo by the Ugandan army in the 1990s.

The Congolese army, supported by UN peacekeepers from the MONUSCO stabilisation mission, had dealt the rebels a series of severe blows earlier this year.

But the fighters have begun to recover, attacking isolated villages before targeting Beni, a day's drive from the regional capital Goma. They are believed still to number around 400 fighters.

The North Kivu civil society group said at least 83 people had been "savagely executed by the ADF" in the past fortnight, and 33 seriously injured, calling on the UN force to contribute troops, not just logistics, to help confront the rebels.

It said its members would meet in Beni on Saturday to decide on their own steps to protect themselves.

According to a UN source, more than 50 women have also been raped in North Kivu and in neighbouring Orientale Province in one week.

Martin Kobler, who heads the UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo, called for "decisive joint military actions of FARDC (the army) and MONUSCO to start as soon as possible in order to relieve the population from the terror imposed by the ADF, once and for all".

Led by Jamil Mukulu, a Christian who converted to Islam, the ADF-NALU has hidden out in the Ruwenzori mountains along the border with Uganda for nearly two decades.

The rebels, who have been accused of serious human rights violations including using child soldiers, have financed themselves by trafficking gold and wood. Beni is a major hub for wood destined for Uganda.

They began to lose their main bastions to the army and the United Nations from January and were targeted by Security Council sanctions in July.

The UN humanitarian chief in Orientale Province, Maurizio Giuliano, has voiced fears that the rebels could further destabilise the vast region rich in minerals.

The flare-up in violence comes as the DR Congo government declared the UN rights envoy to the country "persona non grata", after a UN report denounced violations by the police.

Scott Campbell, who headed the UN Human Rights office in the country left late Friday on a Brussels-bound flight, airport sources said.

MONUSCO spokesman Carlos Araujo said Campbell, an American, had "left for holidays that he had long sought", while Kobler urged Kinshasa to reconsider its decision.

The disputed UN report said at least nine people had been summarily executed and 32 went missing during a police crackdown on youth gangs in Kinshasa, with bodies dumped in a river or buried in mass graves.