Suspected Islamist militants have killed more than 60 people over five days of attacks on villages in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local residents said on Tuesday.
The assailants, believed to be rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), have targeted at least five villages, and the offensive was still ongoing, the residents told Reuters.
Overwhelmed by violence in its eastern regions, Congo's government appointed military officers to run North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province in May. Uganda sent more than 1,000 troops in December to wage joint operations against the ADF.
But the attacks have continued unabated as ADF fighters have lashed out at local civilians in retaliation for the military campaigns.
"The fighting continues even at this hour and victims' bodies are being evacuated on motorbikes," said Kinos Katuho, a civil society leader in the village of Mamove.
He said 62 deaths had been recorded across the five villages and accused the army of doing nothing to protect villagers.
"I returned (home) to find my whole family killed, my sisters, my children," said another Mamove resident, Suzanne Mwassi, who hid in the surrounding bush for two days after militants attacked over the weekend.
Congolese army spokesman Antony Mwalushayi said more than 300 soldiers had been sent to the area and that two ADF militants were killed on Tuesday.
Dozens of militias are active in eastern Congo, legacies of two regional wars between 1996 and 2003. They routinely fight Congolese security forces and one another, competing for land, political influence and mineral resources.
The ADF, which was created in Uganda before moving to eastern Congo in the 1990s, has been blamed for thousands of deaths since 2013, many in middle-of-the-night massacres carried out with machetes and hatchets.
Uganda also blamed the ADF for a triple suicide bombing in the capital Kampala on 16 November that killed seven people and injured dozens more.
Islamic State, to which the ADF pledged allegiance in 2019, claimed responsibility for the bombings. United Nations researchers say they have found no evidence of Islamic State control over ADF operations.