KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — At least 60 people were killed after militants attacked a camp housing people displaced by violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, officials and a monitoring group said on Wednesday, in one of the biggest assaults to hit the restive region in almost a year.
Militants attacked the Plaine Savo camp in Ituri Province on Tuesday night with guns and machetes, killing 60 people, said Ndalo Budz, who works for Caritas Congo and manages the camp. More than 50 people were injured, some severely, Mr. Budz said. Those killed included at least 16 children and nine women, according to Pierre Boisselet, the coordinator of the Kivu Security Tracker, which records violence and human rights violations in eastern Congo.
Videos from eyewitnesses, some shared on social media, showed crowds wailing over the bodies of their loved ones, many of them with what appeared to be deep cuts on their heads and necks.
Lt. Jules Ngongo, the Congolese Army spokesman in Ituri, said the Cooperative for Development of Congo militia, known locally as CODECO, was responsible for the attack. He said the army was deployed to the camp after the attack “to restore order, and we are chasing the enemy.”
The attack was the latest to rock eastern Congo, a lush, mineral-rich region where militant groups have for years carried out vicious assaults against the local population. The attack on Tuesday, Mr. Boisselet said, was also the deadliest one recorded in the region since last May, when 55 people were killed in a double attack in Boga and Tchabi villages in Ituri Province.
More than 120 armed groups operate in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, according to the Kivu tracker.
These groups, some of whom have acted as proxies for neighboring countries, have for years spread havoc in towns and villages, killing and abducting thousands of people, forcing hundreds of thousands others from their homes and leading to a huge humanitarian crisis. Nearly 5.6 million people remained displaced in Congo as of November, according to the United Nations refugee agency, with more than a million others registered as refugees and asylum seekers outside the country.
The deadliest of the armed groups is the Allied Democratic Forces, which has targeted peacekeeping forces, conducted jail breaks and carried out a string of suicide attacks in both Congo and neighboring Uganda. In late November, Uganda sent its troops into Congo in a joint operation with Congolese forces aimed at neutralizing the group and taking over its bases in the country.
CODECO, the militia that the government says attacked on Tuesday, has also risen as a notorious group in the past three years, attacking villages in Ituri Province and pushing more people from their homes, according to observers. At least four splinter groups of the militia emerged after its leader, Justin Ngudjolo, was killed in March 2020, with one of the offshoots, Union of Revolutionaries for the Defense of the Congolese People, carrying out at least 293 violent incidents since last April, according to the Kivu tracker.
The latest attack in Ituri comes amid the deteriorating security situation in the province, which has seen an escalation in attacks against civilians. More than 800 deaths were recorded in Ituri in the last six months of 2021, Mr. Boisselet said.
Some displacement camps have seen repeated attacks. More than 20,000 people lived in Plaine Savo camp, said Simon Englebert Lubuku, the deputy country spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, with those in the camp originally fleeing violence in the Djugu territory.
The violence in eastern Congo has continued even after President Felix Tshisekedi announced a “state of siege” last May in North Kivu and Ituri. The declaration put the military and the police in charge of the regions and instituted martial law in a bid to end the bloodshed. But killings, rapes and abductions have continued to multiply.
“Neither the Congolese Army nor the United Nations peacekeeping forces have been able to offer adequate protection to all the I.D.P. sites, whose numbers are growing,” Mr. Boisselet said, referring to the displacement camps.
On Wednesday, local groups and humanitarian organizations condemned the attack and called on the authorities to hold those responsible for it to account.
“There has never been and never will be any justification for attacks on civilians,” Caitlin Brady, the director of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Congo, said in a statement.
Steve Wembi reported from Kinshasa, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Khartoum, Sudan.