(photo credit: AP [file])
At least 29 people were killed over the weekend by Rwandan rebels wielding machetes, sticks and hammers who descended upon a village in far eastern Congo, a United Nations official said.
The bodies of 17 villagers killed in their sleep were recovered Sunday. By Monday, another 12 corpses were found in the forest, said Samuel Zungrana, the spokesman for the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs in the town of Bukavu, not far from the villages where the attack took place.
Villagers told aid workers on Sunday - the day of the attack - that as many as 12 people had been taken hostage. It was not immediately clear if the 12 bodies found in the forested undergrowth were those of the hostages or of other villagers.
"The paranoia that this killing spree has instilled in the local population is causing many to flee the area," said Zungrana.
On Monday, a platoon of UN peacekeepers arrived in Walungu, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) east of Kinshasa, the Congolese capital. They found letters left by the attackers identifying them as Rwandan militia, who have been operating on Congolese soil since being pushed out of their country following the genocide in 1994, said Maj. Gabriel de Brosses, the spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo.
According to the UN, the attacks occurred in three villages near Walungu, including Nyabuluze, Muhungu and Dhihamba. Aid workers on Sunday also identified the village of Kanyola as an attack site.
"Nearly all the victims were found dead in their beds. The assailants used sticks, machetes and other weapons," said de Brosses.
Local radio announced that the Congolese military launched a counteroffensive in the area where the attack took place. The motive for the attack by the Rwandan militia was not clear.
Rwandan rebels based in eastern Congo include members of Rwanda's former army and extremist Hutu militias, known as the Interahamwe, who led the 100-day genocide of more than a half-million people in Rwanda 13 years ago.