In a horrifying incident that has sent shockwaves through the region, at least 14 innocent lives were tragically cut short when militants from the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) carried out a brutal attack on worshippers attending Sunday prayers in three separate churches in the Djugu territory of the conflict-plagued Ituri province.
The incident occurred on Sunday, and local authorities and civil society leaders confirmed the details on Monday.
Djugu territory administrator Ruphin Mapela and civil society leader Dieudonne Lossa jointly confirmed that CODECO, one among the various militias operating in the volatile eastern region, was responsible for the ruthless assault. Lossa heartbreakingly shared, “The victims were praying to the Lord, but unfortunately militiamen identified as CODECO opened fire on them.”
The grim incident left a trail of death and destruction, with the death toll reported as follows: 9 civilians, 4 assailants, and a soldier. The assailants reportedly targeted three churches – Mesa, Cepac, and Aumopro – all situated along the shores of Lake Albert in the Bahema-Nord chiefdom. The sudden and ruthless nature of the attack has left the community in a state of shock and mourning.
The local authorities are determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. “We call on the population to remain calm as the armed forces pursue these criminals to put them out of action,” urged Ituri army spokesman Jules Ngongo Tshikudi. The national armed forces have launched an operation to apprehend the assailants and dismantle the CODECO militia, which has been responsible for numerous atrocities in the region.
The CODECO militia has long claimed to be defending the interests of Lendu farmers, a group that has been engaged in a protracted conflict with Hema herders. The longstanding disputes between these two communities have escalated into violent clashes, creating a dire humanitarian crisis in the region. The CODECO raids have further exacerbated the situation, contributing to the precarious conditions faced by the local population.
The Ituri province has been grappling with a severe humanitarian crisis for years, with an estimated 3 million people desperately requiring aid, as reported by a U.N. humanitarian agency. The volatile security situation, compounded by the activities of various militias including CODECO, has severely limited humanitarian efforts and made it challenging for aid organizations to provide much-needed assistance to the affected communities.
The recent attack on innocent churchgoers highlights the urgent need for comprehensive and lasting solutions to the ongoing conflict in the eastern Congo region. International organizations, governments, and stakeholders are being called upon to increase efforts to mediate between the conflicting groups and establish sustainable peace.
As the Ituri province mourns the loss of lives, the incident shows the deep-rooted challenges faced by the region and the urgency to address them for the sake of the local population.