KINSHASA, CONGO (AP) – At least 15 people were killed and dozens of others injured during two days of demonstrations in Congo’s east against the United Nations (UN) mission in the country, officials said on Tuesday.
The UN said one peacekeeper from Morocco and two international policemen from India serving with the UN peacekeeping force were slain and a policeman from Egypt was injured at the UN base in Butembo in North Kivu province when “violent attackers snatched weapons from Congolese police” and fired on UN personnel.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the Butembo attack and violence targetting multiple UN bases across North Kivu since Monday, UN Deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Haq said that on Tuesday “hundreds of assailants” attacked bases of the UN force in Goma and other parts of North Kivu, “fuelled by hostile remarks and threats made by individuals and groups against the UN, particularly on social media”.
“Mobs are throwing stones and petrol bombs, breaking into bases, looting and vandalising, and setting facilities on fire,” Haq said.
“We are trying to calm things down” including by dispatching quick reaction forces but there is no evidence the violence has ended.
In addition, Haq said at least four incidents targetted the residences of mission staff, who have now been relocated to UN camps.
A mob also tried to enter the compound of the UN Development Programme on Tuesday but was repelled by security guards, he said.
Demonstrators on Monday set fires and forced entry into the UN mission offices in Goma, accusing the peacekeeping force of failing to protect civilians amid rising violence in Congo’s eastern region. They are calling for the UN forces, present in Congo for years, to leave.
Congo’s police said at least six people were killed in Goma on Monday, and eight civilians in Butembo. Earlier, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said at least five people were killed and about 50 wounded by Monday.
Protesters blamed shots fired by the peacekeepers for the deaths.
The secretary-general “regrets the loss of life of demonstrators” and affirms the UN peacekeeping mission’s commitment to work with Congolese authorities to investigate these incidents, Haq said.
Guterres underscored that any attack directed at UN peacekeepers might constitute a war crime and called on Congolese authorities to swiftly investigate the killings and bring those responsible to justice, the spokesman said.
Congo’s mineral-rich east is home to myriad rebel groups and the region’s security has worsened despite a year of emergency operations by a joint force of the armies of Congo and Uganda.
Civilians in the east have also had to deal with violence from rebels linked to the Islamic State group.
The government spokesman didn’t say what caused the deaths but on Twitter, he described the response by security forces and peacekeepers as “warning shots to disperse the demonstrators and prevent any attack” on UN installations.
“The government has instructed the security forces to take all measures to ensure a return to calm and the normal resumption of activities in Goma,” he said.
He also reiterated that steps are already being taken for the peacekeeping forces to be withdrawn.