Armed men kill at least a dozen civilians in northeast Congo

By Fiston Mahamba

BUNIA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Armed men killed at least a dozen people and kidnapped several in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday night, authorities said, the latest in a string of attacks they have blamed on Ugandan Islamist rebels.

Violence attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan armed group active in eastern Congo since the 1990s, has surged since the army began a counter-insurgency campaign against them late last year.

Armed men attacked the city of Mbau in Beni territory, North Kivu province, near the Ugandan border, killing and kidnapping people and burning houses before fleeing into the bush, officials and a civil rights groups said.

"They committed macabre acts. For the moment we have just found 12 bodies of civilians killed by these rebels," said Donat Kibwana, administrator of the Beni territory.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission confirmed that five men and five women had been killed.

Following the army offensive, the ADF abandoned its bases, split into smaller, more mobile groups, and committed a series of reprisal attacks against civilians which may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, according to a U.N. report.

The ADF has burned down villages, destroyed health centres and schools and abducted and recruited men, women and children, the U.N. said.

It's not clear how many people remain missing, said Omar Kalisya, president of a civil rights group in Mbau.

"Had it not been for the intervention of the army, the damage would have been enormous," he told Reuters.

Several ADF raids have also been claimed by Islamic State, although researchers and analysts say there's little hard evidence linking the two groups.

In the first half of the year, unrest forced more than a million people to flee their homes in the east of the country, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

(Reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kambale and Fiston Mahamba; writing by Hereward Holland)

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