Lubumbashi (DR Congo) (AFP) - At least 15 people from DR Congo's Bantu community were killed Thursday in an attack blamed on Pygmies in an area of the southeast that has seen repeated ethnic clashes, local sources said.
"Clashes between Bantus and Pygmies in the village of Piana Mwanga have left 15 Bantus dead, 37 injured and 65 houses burned," Paul Kwanga, bishop of the southeastern town of Manono, told AFP.
Kamona Lumuna, the interior minister of Tanganyika province where the assault took place, confirmed the attack but said the precise toll was not yet known.
"A team will be sent from tomorrow to investigate what really happened in the village," Kamona told AFP by telephone.
Local civil society leader Modeste Kubali said 17 people had been killed and 47 injured, with 65 homes torched.
"The village has been emptied of its population and the injured have been abandoned to their sad fate," Kubali said.
Pygmies from the ethnic Twa group have been seeking recognition of equal rights with other citizens in the vast, unstable Democratic Republic of Congo, but they regularly come into conflict with Bantus who regard them as second-class.
Since December 2013, northern Katanga -- a region as large as Spain that was split into four provinces in 2015, including Tanganyika -- has been the scene of multiple deadly clashes between the Pygmies and Bantus from the ethnic Luba group.
In October, 20 people were killed in three days of bloodshed over a tax paid to Bantus on harvesting caterpillars -- a staple food for Pygmies.
Recent years have seen a cycle of revenge killings, looting and the burning of entire villages.
More than 200 people were reported dead in violence in 2014-2015 and tens of thousands fled fighting that pitted bows and arrows against machete blades.
In September, four Bantus were sentenced to 15 years in jail for crimes against humanity over the conflict.
Tensions between the two peoples stretch back before DR Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960, with the land-owning Bantus accused of exploiting the hunter-gatherers, paying them meagre wages, or paying them in alcohol and cigarettes for labouring the land.
Today, the nomadic lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer Pygmies has come under threat from deforestation, mining and the expansion of Bantu farmlands.
The latest flare in violence comes after a year of relative calm following talks mediated by local authorities and the UN's mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO.