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Militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least 34 civilians over the weekend, the army and local activists said, and the violence stoked concerns over political instability.
Attacks have surged across the country in the past week alongside violent protests over President Joseph Kabila’s failure to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate on Tuesday.
While it is not clear that all the violence is related, analysts fear political instability over Kabila’s tenure is stoking localised conflicts by creating security vacuums.
An ethnic Nande militia killed at least 13 Hutu civilians on Sunday in the eastern town of Nyanzale with guns and machetes in an apparent revenge attack for the deaths of Nande civilians last week, local activist Innocent Gasigwa said.
“This must be the response for last time,” Gasigwa said, referring to an attack on Thursday by Nyatura, an ethnic Hutu militia, that killed at least 17 civilians in a nearby village. He said two militiamen were killed as well.
On Saturday, 21 civilians and four militiamen were killed on Saturday in attacks near the city of Beni, 300 km (185 miles) north of Nyanzale, local army spokesman Captain Mak Hazukay told Reuters.
Hundreds of civilians have died in raids near Beni since October 2014. The government blames the ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group, though analysts say others, including Congolese soldiers, are involved.
At least 40 people died last week in protests against Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate last Tuesday. The government says he will remain in office until an election can be organised in 2018.
Local mediators from the Catholic church hope talks between Kabila’s ruling coalition and the main opposition bloc will produce a deal by Friday for Kabila to step down after an election in late 2017.
Catholic priests across Congo on Sunday read out a message from the church’s national head, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, saying: “The time is over when one tried to hold onto power with arms by killing one’s people, these young people who only seek out their right to live with a little more dignity.”
African and Western powers fear the violence could spark another conflict in a country where millions died between 1996 and 2003 in regional wars. The central African country has not achieved a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.