, DR Congo, Oct 21 – “You sent soldiers to wipe us out, but here we are.” That was the chilling message from Ugandan rebels during the latest massacre in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, according to one survivor.
The rebels slashed 24 men, women and children to death using axes and machetes, said Veronique, declining to give her full name, in a shaky voice from a makeshift hospital bed.
“Where are your protectors? If you want to stay in peace, you must not send us your soldiers,” the killers said as they spread havoc through the village of Eringeti late Friday.
The mother of two broke down as she told of how the rebels decapitated her two-year-old child in front of her eyes.
Eringeti is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Beni, a town of half a million where 26 people were slaughtered with machetes on Thursday in another attack blamed on the rebels.
The Ugandan rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) have committed a string 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 them a series of severe blows earlier this year.
But the fighters have begun to recover, spreading fear across the north of North Kivu province.
They are believed still to number around 400 fighters.
In less than two weeks they have killed around 80 people with bladed weapons.
– Military inaction –
In Eringeti, a village of around 2,000 inhabitants, they wreaked havoc during at least two and a half hours, according to witness accounts from the local hospital, authorities and a local resident to AFP.
Soldiers stationed one kilometre (just over half a mile) away failed to come and another small group of soldiers who heard gunshots at the start of the attack went to check it out and then turned back, according to the same sources.
One resident, who gave her name as Pascaline, gathered her three children and prepared to head south after the massacre with a group of women on a truck full of flour sacks.
“The authorities did nothing to persuade us to stay,” she said. Hundreds of others have also fled their homes.
Pascaline said the massacre stopped just 100 metres (yards) from her house. She heard cries come closer and then silence as she anxiously took cover inside.
After a while, she fell asleep, exhausted.
She only dared to come outside early Saturday, along with other survivors, to witness a scene of desolation.
The village chief, Desire Boroso, told AFP that he arrived on site at around 7:00 am on Saturday.
At that point, there were still no soldiers around, as threatening cries rang out nearby.
He said the attackers were taunting local people from the slope of a hill some 300 metres away from the village, beyond crops, oil palms and a river.
The nearest neighbourhood emptied out before several squads of soldiers finally arrived to chase the rebels away.
The aim of the raid appeared to be to terrorise, rather than pillage. After killing or frightening away soldiers guarding a warehouse of army supplies, the rebels took nothing.
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.
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.
But since the brutal killing at the end of August of general Lucien Bahuma, who led the Congolese offensive, the rebels have been fighting back.
Eringeti was attacked despite the presence of two regiments stationed in the area.
“Since the death of general Bahuma, everything is going wrong,” said a public figure who requested anonymity.