Twenty children are believed to have lost their lives in recent outbreaks of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including two burned alive in their own home, UNICEF said Tuesday.
UNICEF condemned the reported killings in North and South Kivu, eastern stretches of the country that are roiled by rebels. The guerrillas include a Rwandan group and former soldiers who defected last month along with Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. He is accused of coercing scores more children to join his forces.
Congolese forces began attacking the armed groups in February. In return, the rebels have stepped up their attacks on civilians, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
UNICEF recounted several attacks that had reportedly killed children, nine of whom were reported slain in a massacre of 37 people in Kamananga. It did not address who committed the attacks, though news reports have widely attributed several of the listed killings to rebel groups.
"UNICEF calls for those responsible for these actions to be tried and punished by the appropriate authorities and reminds all parties of their direct responsibility to protect the lives of children and all other civilians caught up in conflict," UNICEF representative Barbara Bentein said in a statement.
The clashes between government forces and armed rebels have displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes, pushing many into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
The violence has also injured and killed those trying to ease it: A U.N. refugee agency worker died last week, shot when his home was attacked by unknown assailants. Eleven U.N. peacekeepers were severely injured after protesters upset by the Hutu attacks surrounded their Congo base.
"What is most alarming is the commonplace nature of violence on civilian populations and aid actors,” Doctors Without Borders program manager Marcela Allheimen said last month.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Internally displaced Congolese from Kisigari congregate in the village of Kabindi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday. Credit: Phil Moore / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images