More than 3,300 people have been killed since October alone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region, said a report on recent violence by Catholic officials this week.
The death toll includes civilians caught in the crossfire of a brutal fight between the Congolese army and an opposing militia group.
A report was issued Tuesday by Catholic officials, who repeatedly appealed for both sides to embrace peaceful dialogue in order to facilitate the transition of power from President Joseph Kabila to his successor.
In the central-southern province of Kasai, the report said, 14 villages have been destroyed thus far, totaling at least 3,383 deaths.
Ten villages were destroyed by the central government’s army in an attempt to root out the opposition. Four more villages were demolished by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, killing hundreds of people and attacking church property while trying to drive out the government.
U.N. investigators say they have found 42 mass graves, according to Reuters. Additionally, the U.N. has stated that over 1.3 million people have fled from the country’s fighting.
This week, the U.N. Human Right’s Council in Geneva is expected to determine the need for an investigation into the country’s excessive violence. The DRC government has previously opposed such an investigation.
Political unrest developed in Congo in 2015 after a bill was proposed which would potentially delay the presidential and parliamentary elections. The bill was widely seen by the opposition as a power grab on the part of Kabila.
Relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated further when a Kasai chief was killed last August, after calling on the central government to quit meddling in the territory, insisting it be controlled by the local leaders.
Catholic bishops in the country had helped to negotiate an agreement, which hoped to prevent a renewed civil war by securing an election this year for the successor of President Kabila.
However, in January of this year, the bishops said the agreement was expected to fail unless both parties were willing to compromise. In March, the bishops withdrew from mediation talks.
With a history of bloody ethnic rivalries and clashes over resources, fears have developed that the violence in Kasai, a hub for political tension, will spread to the rest of the nation and even lead to the involvement of neighboring countries.
Forty percent of the DRC population is Catholic, and the Church’s report follows dozens of others around the country detailing the destruction of churches, gang violence against members, and even a death of the religious and clergy.
Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, the country’s capital, has told the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need that he thought the Church was being targeted “in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”