BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 19 people in a raid on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local authorities said.

The attackers looted houses and started fires in Kasanzi-Kithovo near Virunga National Park in North Kivu province overnight between Friday and Saturday, they said.

“I don’t know where to go with my two children,” villager Kahindo Lembula, who lost four of her relatives in the attack, told Reuters by phone. “Only God will help us.”

The head of Buliki district, Kalunga Meso, and local rights group CEPADHO blamed the assault on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – an Islamist militant group accused of killing thousands of people in recent years, mostly in remote areas.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the ADF could not be reached.

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The government declared martial law in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province at the beginning of May, in an attempt to quell a surge in violence that the military largely attributes to the ADF.

But the number of civilians killed in such attacks has only increased since then, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which maps unrest in eastern Congo.

Earlier in August, President Felix Tshisekedi said special forces from the United States would soon deploy to the east to gauge the potential for a local anti-terrorism unit to combat Islamist violence.

The ADF was blacklisted in March by Washington as a terrorist group. It has publicly aligned itself with Islamic State, which in turn has claimed responsibility for some of its attacks.

But in a June report, U.N. experts said they had found no evidence of direct support from Islamic State to the ADF. [L5N2NX5IP]

(Reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kabale; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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