June 5 (UPI) -- About 1,300 civilians have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid conflict involving government forces and armed opposition groups during the past eight months, raising the alarm about war crimes and other violations, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights said Friday.
Conflicts in the Congo provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu have led to brutal attacks against innocent civilians by the armed opposition group and the government, said Michele Bachelet, the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights.
"Armed groups have committed massacres and other atrocities, and defense and security forces have also been responsible for grave human rights violations in these provinces as well as in other parts of the country," the U.N. statement said.
One of the main armed groups, CODECO, made up of militants from the Lendu community, has splintered and multiplied in the Ituri province. The group appeared to split after its main leader Ngudjolo Duduko Justin was killed on March 25.
"I am appalled by the increase in brutal attacks on innocent civilians by armed groups, and by the reaction of the military and security forces who have also committed grave violations, including killings and sexual violence," Bachelet said. "These are not only reprehensible and criminal acts, but they also break the trust between and the state representatives, both security and political."
A military operation by government forces in North Kivu led to civilian deaths while the armed group ADF had killed 514 civilians with machetes by the end of May. In South Kivu, 74 people have been killed since October in ethnic-based violence between the Banyamulenge and the Bafuliro, Babembe and Banyindu communities.
"Protection of civilians is the responsibility of the state, and when the state leaves a vacuum, others tend to fill it. In DRC, past experience shows this can have catastrophic results," Bachelet said.
A United Nations human rights report in January said since February 2018, nearly 57,000 Congo residents have fled the country for neighboring Uganda and more than 556,000 have gone to other regions because of the unrest.