Eastern DRC has endured years of insecurity. / Photo: Reuters

Militia fighters have killed at least 15 people at several villages in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo's gold-rich and volatile Ituri province, local sources said on Thursday.

The sources blamed the CODECO, or Cooperative for the Development of the Congo militia – which claims to defend the interests of the Lendu group against the rival Hema – for the killing.

Innocent Matukadala, chief of the Banyali-Kalo administrative sector which includes the villages, told AFP some of the dead had been decapitated.

"The victims were kidnapped between April 15 and 16 and we were alerted about their deaths today, after the bodies were discovered," he said.

Ethnic-based militias

Most of the dead were artisanal goldminers.

Jean Robert Basiloko, head of the sector's civil society, said two groups of CODECO fighters had killed 20 people, including a village chief, three women and a child.

Since the start of the year, CODECO has been blamed for the killing of dozens of civilians in attacks on villagers.

Ituri saw conflict between ethnic-based militias from 1999 to 2003 that left thousands dead before the intervention of a European force.

Thousands killed

Fighting flared again in 2017, killing thousands of civilians and triggering mass displacement.

The south of the province also faces attacks blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who operate in neighbouring North Kivu province as well.

The ADF, originally mainly Ugandan rebels, has established a presence over the three decades in eastern DRC, killing thousands of civilians.

Click here to follow our WhatsApp channel for more stories.