Kinshasa: About 100 people were slaughtered last week in a fresh massacre in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, blamed by the government on Uganda rebels, lawmakers told AFP on Monday.
The carnage took place on Thursday near Beni in North Kivu province, where mainly Muslim Ugandan rebels have been blamed for killing more than 200 civilians in gruesome machete attacks since October, and where the UN wants "negative forces" to be neutralised.
"I have a figure of 95 bodies buried in a common grave," as well as "nine others that were shown to authorities in a morgue," opposition member of parliament Juma Balikwisha told AFP.
"We still don`t have a definitive toll. It lies between 70 and 100 people killed," said Albert Baliesima, an MP for the parliamentary majority backing President Joseph Kabila.
North Kivu governor Julien Paluku meanwhile put the number of dead at 58 while government spokesman Lambert Mende said at a news conference that provisional estimates showed "more than a dozen dead".
Mende added that "first conclusions" pointed to rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) being responsible for the latest in a wave of massacres that began early in October.
The government was determined "to eradicate these murderers of women and children," he said.
UN special envoy to the central African Great Lakes region, Said Djinnit, said in a statement "that the worsening situation in the Beni area... calls for decisive action towards neutralising all negative forces in the DRC, as per the decisions of the regional leaders and the UN Security Council."
On Friday, the Civil Society of North Kivu, an NGO based in Beni, had called for the army, police and UN forces to step in. The UN`s humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, says 35,000 people have been displaced in the region in the last few weeks.
Some regional officials who spoke to AFP said they did not know who carried out the killings in a region where the Congolese army (FARDC) and a UN special intervention force have been battling the ADF-NALU since January.
"We were told that the (FARDC) didn`t want people to go further into the bush," where more bodies could yet be discovered, Baliesima said.
An administrative source in Beni said that the killings took place in four villages close together between the market town and the town of Mbau, 20 kilometres (12 miles) further north.
Reached by telephone, a local resident told AFP that 95 bodies picked up in the bush had been buried in the village of Tepiomba.
The population of Beni, a major trading centre and stronghold of the Nande ethnic group located 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of the provincial capital Goma, has accused the government and soldiers of doing nothing to protect local people.
President Kabila visited Beni at the end of October and publicly swore that the army was "going to win against the terrorists", but his presence failed to prevent a massacre within the town.
The ADF-NALU rebels, believed to number around 400, have hidden in the Ruwenzori mountains that straddle the border with Uganda since being driven out of their homeland by President Yoweri Museveni`s soldiers in 1995.
In their joint offensive, the Congolese army and troops of the intervention brigade of the UN mission (MONUSCO) appeared to make gains against the Ugandan insurgents until August, when the respected commander of FARDC troops suddenly died of a heart attack.
The rebels bounced back, but the combined forces renewed major operations against the insurgents in October. The brigade with the large UN mission in the DR Congo has an offensive mandate to tackle armed movements in the east, which has been a powder keg for more than 20 years.