At least 200 people have been killed in and around the Katoyi sector of southern Masisi territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s restive North Kivu since early May, according to a UN official.

Our independent investigation has found testimonies from 11 people who confirm the deaths of around 170 civilians in attacks beginning on May 14, attributed to the Maï Maï Kifuafua, the Maï Maï Guides and Maï Maï Raïa Mutomboki armed groups operating in the area.

“I saw people come running saying the Maï Maï were attacking” says Chantel Choka*, a thirty year old woman who is taking refuge in a school in Katoyi following an attack on the village of Mahanga at around 3pm on May 28.

Testimonies by those who witnessed the massacres say that the armed groups have been targeting Rwandaphones, irrespective of their nationality.

Sema Uwimana* said that the Raïa Mutomboki cried “we will kill everyone who speaks Kinyarwanda” as they attacked the village of Marembo on the 14th and 15th of May.

Mr. Uwimana’s mother, his pregnant sister and two nephews were killed in the attacks by men he described as wearing only “rafia” - banana leaves gathered in the forest that covers the verdant hills of the region. “They were armed with machetes, spears, as well as a few Kalashnikovs” he says. He reports the deaths of around twenty other people in the village over the two day period, identified after returning a week later to bury some of the rotting corpses. He found his two nephews’ stomachs cut open, their intestines spilled out, whilst his sister had been shot in the back as she fled. His mother, her chest cleft open, was left lying naked on the ground.

Under their mandate to protect civilians, United Nations peacekeepers from Uruguay have established a temporary base — a “Standard Combat Deployment” — on a hill overlooking Katoyi. On the night of June 2, as a thick, cold mist descended on their hilltop base, a group of figures emerged from the fog walking past the barbed wire perimeter, along with reports of another attack in the village of Mitimingi, a few hours’ walk away.

The secretary of the camp for the displaced in Katoyi, which has only existed since September 2011, says that around 1300 families have fled here since attacks in the area broke out on May 14. Bigembe Turikonkinko, the Katoyi sector chief, has allocated plots of land on the hillside opposite his new office to the displaced, which are rapidly being filled by huts made of bamboo and grass, chopped down by machete. “The braver ones have fled here but others have gone further away” says Captain Lofimbo Raheli, the police commissioner in Katoyi. “The number of displaced rises every day.”

Paul Nakayezu, a sixty-five year old man whose hat and jacket sit atop a wooden stake next to the land he hoes, is clearing the ground to build a home next to the peacekeepers’ base. Attacks by the Raïa Mutomboki in Kikoma two weeks previously were targeting Hutu Rwandaphones, say witnesses.

A few kilometres away at a school in Katoyi, classrooms are being used by night as shelter for around 120 of the displaced. Some people pass only the night here but others stay longer, explains the director of the school, Bernard Harerimana. Students occupy the classrooms from 8am until 1pm, but are running out of places to sit. “In some classrooms we don’t even have any benches left” says Mr. Harerimana - the temporary residents are using them as firewood.

A clinic stands opposite the school on the dirt road that passes through Katoyi. Jean Damascene Hagumimana, the nurse in charge of the clinic, holds a sheet of paper cataloguing nine people injured in the attacks, who arrived between the 18th and 19th of May. Eight of the injured were suffering from gunshot wounds, whilst one was attacked by machete to the ear and arm. In total, around 80 injured people have arrived here since May 14.

One of them is Tuombe Hategeka*, who wears a bandage over a seeping gunshot wound to his right arm. A Hutu Rwandaphone, he was attacked on May 21, saying that he saw the Raïa Mutomboki kill nine people in his village. “They were trying to kill all the Kinyarwanda speakers in all the villages” he says.

The massacres here coincide with attacks by the Congolese national army — the FARDC — on Bosco Ntaganda, the former head of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) who is linked to mutineering soldiers in Masisi and Rutshuru territories. For nearly a month now, the FARDC and the M23 rebels have been involved in heavy battles in Rutshuru. “When the FARDC began operations against Ntaganda, the Maï Maï Kifuafua and the Raïa Motumboki started attacking villages and the population” says Police Commissioner Captain Raheli.

The increase in attacks on civilians by these armed groups demonstrates a shift in tactics, particularly by the Raïa Mutomboki, who originated in Shabunda in South Kivu province. Previously, attacks targeted members of rival armed groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as well as their families. Captain Raheli suggests that it was a new alliance by the Maï Maï Kifuafua from Walikale territory that neighbours Masisi, which brought the Raïa Mutomboki up from South Kivu. “We reported to our hierarchy that these groups were here, but they didn’t do anything” he says, talking of the inaction of the state in these remote villages.

Sam Dixon, a policy advisor based in Goma for Oxfam, says the situation in eastern Congo is the worst it’s been for several years. “The Congolese government and the UN have plans to bring stability to eastern Congo but the current wave of insecurity shows these plans aren’t working.”

*Names changed