Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo city of Beni after another eight people were killed overnight in new violence.
“Things are bad in Beni, there is the crackling of gunfire because the police are trying to disperse the demonstrators,” youth leader Chirac Katalya told the AFP news agency on Sunday, adding that the death toll from the latest killings could rise.
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The reported killings in the city added to more than 110 deaths counted in the region since last month.
Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group that has terrorised much of the region for more than two decades, are the prime suspects behind the bloodshed but there is still no confirmation that the group is responsible for the violence.
Katalya said police fired into the air to disperse the demonstrators, adding: “The people want to destroy the city hall at whatever cost.”
The demonstrators were dispersed outside the city hall, but the police and soldiers were chasing them down back alleys as they tried to regroup, Katalya said, adding that gunfire was continuing.
The protesters partially destroyed a roundabout where there is a statue of President Joseph Kabila, who visited the city on Friday, speaking about the killings for the first time.
Kabila pledged to “vanquish” the ADF and asked the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO to step up its presence in the region.
He also vowed to reorganise the leadership of the military campaign against the rebels.
Bwanakawa Nyonyi the mayor of Beni, lamented the violence, saying “there was nothing peaceful”.
“We condemn this behaviour,” he told AFP, suggesting that a “black hand” was behind the unrest, without elaborating.
Teddy Kataliko, head of the Beni region civil society, told AFP that “the carnage” happened in the city’s eastern Bel-Air district overnight.
“Eight people were killed, two soldiers and six civilians,” he said. Youth leader Katalya said the dead included three women and a child.
DR Congo officials were not immediately contactable to confirm the report of the latest killings.
Kataliko said witnesses believed the attackers were from the ADF.
The Ugandan rebels were chased into the DR Congo by the Ugandan army in the 1990s and have been hiding in the Ruwenzori mountains along the border since.
Although weakened by a UN-backed government offensive against them, which started in January, they continue to carry out massacres, forced recruitment and pillaging, and make money by trading goods, including wood.