At least 45 civilians have been killed in a spate of attacks over the past week across the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled North Kivu province.

Decades of fighting between armed groups over lucrative gold and mineral deposits has devastated the region, forcing millions from their homes.

The Congolese government has not confirmed who was responsible for this week’s killings, but multiple local sources say Islamic State-linked Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) were to blame.

The attackers targeted several villages in the region surrounding the city of Beni, to which many people have since fled.

Reports suggest that the worst-hit district was Mamove, where a number of homes were also torched and motorbikes were stolen.

“The [death] toll could rise as the search continues, the population is fleeing and heading towards supposedly secure areas,” Leon Siviwe, an administrative leader in Beni, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

The ADF was created across the border in eastern Uganda in the 1990s, and took up arms against the country’s long-serving president, Yoweri Museveni, alleging government persecution of Muslims.

Its alliance with Islamic State is thought to have begun about six years ago, but analysts say those links are tenuous.

An online post by Islamic State says one of this week’s attacks in North Kivu targeted Christians.

Joint military operations by Ugandan and Congolese forces against ADF rebels began in 2021 but they have failed to stop attacks on civilians.

Another rebel group, the M23, has recently revived its deadly campaign in eastern Democratic Republic and has been seizing territory from government forces.

Rwanda is widely understood to be backing the M23 rebels, but Kigali vehemently denies this.

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