Aid groups say they have been forced to halt Ebola prevention activities due to violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) restive east over the weekend that killed 21 people.
The bloodshed occurred on Saturday in Beni, a flashpoint city in the North Kivu region. The Congolese army has blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a notorious rebel militia.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said it and other aid agencies have been forced to temporarily suspend activities in Beni because of the attack.
“This points to an increasingly worrisome security situation across the country,” the group said in a statement on Monday, adding that it had to halt activities due to intensifying and frequent clashes in Djugu territory in the northern province of Ituri, and Fizi in South Kivu over the last two weeks.
“These suspensions have disrupted aid to thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection,” the NRC statement added.
Stephen Lamin, area manager for NRC, said it was a “worst-case scenario”. The group provides food, household items, education and legal counselling in the region.
The latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC’s east has infected at least 118 people, 69 of whom have died, according to Congo’s health ministry.
Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga claimed that health staff had temporarily suspended field activities requiring home visits and that “all pillars of the response remain fully operational”.
“Despite the unfortunate events of the last few days, the Ministry of Health remains fully committed,” he said, adding that health centres, including the Beni Ebola Treatment Center, remained open.
Witnesses said Saturday’s violence began in Beni city centre in the late afternoon when attackers began using guns and machetes against people there.
An initial army estimate put the death toll at 18, including four soldiers, but later raised it to 21.
On Monday morning, many shops, schools and businesses in Beni remained closed in protest, while an opposition legislator called for “a rapid assessment of the army’s operational effectiveness” ahead of the December elections.
“The front line is no longer in the Virunga National Park and is now in Beni, which poses a real danger for the holding of safe elections on December 23,” said Anselme Mwaka, an opposition MP from the Union for the Congolese Nation.
Since January, Congolese troops have been engaged in a military operation against the ADF, but have not yet managed to stop the bloodshed in and around Beni.
The ADF is one of a number of armed groups that hold territory in the eastern DRC and are battling for control of the region’s rich mineral resources.