Notorious militia storms Mbidjo area in northeastern Ituri province, killing at least 17 villagers and burning hundreds of homes, officials and residents say.
Seventeen people have been killed and hundreds of houses burned during a militia attack on a village in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a local civil society head and officials said.
Gunmen from the feared Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) militia stormed Mbidjo in Ituri province's Djugu territory during the morning, said Jules Uwechi, chairman of the village's civil society group, on Friday.
"They opened fire, set houses ablaze and pillaged the property of villagers... I myself narrowly escaped," Uwechi said in the provincial capital Bunia.
"When we went back we found 17 people had been killed –– seven women, eight men and two children."
Eleven of the bodies had been buried in a mass grave.
The army and the territory's administrator said by early evening they were not in a position to confirm the death toll.
But Uwechis explained, "There are no soldiers (at Mbidjo), there was no intervention against the militia."
"I was spending the night in my shop and suddenly I heard bullets and people moaning," said resident Lokana Maki.
"We have so far seen 15 dead and more than 300 houses burned and other people wounded and even kidnapped."
The death toll was confirmed by local chief Richard Venna.
One of the deadliest of over 120 militias
After the assault, the attackers returned to their stronghold some 10 kilometres away, he added.
CODECO is a political-religious sect that claims to represent the interests of the Lendu ethnic group.
It is considered one of the deadliest of the more than 120 militias operating in the DRC's troubled east, and has been blamed for a number of ethnic massacres in Ituri.
Last year, DRC's government put security officials in charge of gold-rich Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province in a bid to curb violence, but the attacks continue.
The fresh attack took place not far from the site of another CODECO massacre in February in which at least 60 people were killed at a camp for displaced people.
Much of eastern DRC has seen a spike in violence this year, frustrating residents who say the army and the United Nations peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, are not doing enough to keep people safe.
At least one person was killed in the eastern city of Beni this week when shots were fired during another protest against MONUSCO.