At least 10 people have died and more than 100 are missing after gunmen attacked a boat on the Congo River this week in an area in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that has been plagued by communal violence, local authorities told French news agency AFP.
“Armed assailants attacked a ‘whaleboat'” at Kaba-Ecole village in Kwamouth territory, Mai-Ndombe province, on Tuesday, Rita Bola, the province’s governor, told AFP. She was unable to specify the death toll or the reasons for the attack.
‘Whaleboats’ are a type of barge, often overloaded, used to transport passengers and goods along the Congo River.
The assailants arrived in a motorised dugout
According to Pius Makina, administrator of Kwamouth, the boat was carrying more than 200 people, but the exact figure could not be confirmed due to a lack of accurate passenger records.
The assailants arrived in a motorised dugout canoe. When the passengers saw them coming, they “got scared and more than 100 jumped into the water,” said the administrator. “They disappeared.”
He said the bodies of 10 victims had been found.
Pierre Zungulu, a community leader from Kwamouth, said he counted 22 survivors.
The boat had taken off from the capital, Kinshasa, and was headed for the northwestern town of Mbandaka, according to various sources.
'Original inhabitants' versus more recent settlers
Kwamouth has been plagued by communal violence that broke out last June between the Bateke, who consider themselves the area’s original inhabitants and owners of the land along the Congo River over a distance of about 200 kilometres, and the Bayaka, more recent settlers.
The violence, which later spread to neighbouring Kwilu province, left at least 180 people dead, according to the government in Kinshasa. After a lull, the violence resumed earlier this month when armed men attacked two villages, killing at least 15 people and forcing about 200 to flee the area.
The UN says the conflict has displaced tens of thousands of people, some of whom have sought refuge across the Congo River in the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville).