At least eight civilians killed after rebel attack, as UN offices targeted for ‘failure to act’ in eastern city of Beni.
Protesters targeted UN facilities again in eastern DR Congo on Tuesday with at least two people killed as anger rises over the failure to stop deadly attacks on civilians by rebels.
Omar Aboud, the United Nations chief of military forces in Beni, said no live ammunition was fired by UN forces at the attacking protesters in the town of Beni in North Kivu province.
“We are aware of the demonstrators who are making their way and we are making every effort to continue the dialogue with these demonstrators and their leaders, as well as the national authorities … to ensure calm and return to peace and security,” Aboud told Al Jazeera.
“We have our troops and our police officers who are trained in riot control and who provided protection to our compound while it was being attacked for hours at a time.”
Crowds defied a curfew late on Tuesday and continued to vent their anger at UN forces in a stand-off outside Beni. Running street battles occurred all day as demonstrators marched towards a UN base at the airport.
“The UN is supposed to keep the peace in North Kivu but we never see the peace. We are so angry, we don’t want them to stay here,” protester Kambale Cyril said.
Another demonstrator Serge Kakule vowed to continue targeting the UN force.
“We came here today to see if these UN people were still here. If they come back [to the compound], we will burn it again,” he warned.
The UN force, known as MONUSCO, is the biggest peacekeeping unit in the world and has operated in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the past two decades.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Goma in the DRC, said the demonstrations spread west to the major city in support of those in Beni.
“Protesters were trying to get to a very important UN base near to the airport, a major logistics centre. They were repulsed by government soldiers here in Goma. The situation continues to be quite tense.”
The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, moved dozens of staff from the Ebola-hit eastern DRC because of mounting insecurity after angry residents accused authorities – including a major UN peacekeeping force – of failing to protect them from rebel attacks.
Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the United Nations health agency, said on Tuesday that 49 “non-essential” WHO employees were being “relocated”.
Four people were killed in clashes with security forces on Monday when demonstrators angered by a new round of deadly rebel violence in the region torched the mayor’s office and attacked several UN buildings in Beni.
“While 49 were relocated, 71 remain on the spot at this point to ensure as good as possible or at least the minimum support to Ebola response,” Lindmeier told a news conference in the Swiss city of Geneva.
“We need law and order restored in order to carry out the vital operations.”
Eight civilians were killed on Sunday night in Beni during the latest attack in the area blamed on rebel fighters believed to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group, prompting protesters to take to the town’s streets.
Residents are outraged that rebels continue to carry out deadly attacks despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and DRC security forces in the region. Some have called for the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO) to take action to prevent such atrocities, or leave the region.
The DRC’s military initiated its latest campaign in October to root out fighters operating in the region, which has been racked by decades of instability.
However, the mission has been unable to prevent a spate of bloody attacks on civilians. Armed groups are estimated to have killed hundreds of civilians and security forces in northeastern DRC in recent years.
In separate attacks earlier this month, suspected rebel fighters had killed at least 15 people in and around the village of Mbau, about 20km (12 miles) north of Beni.
Adam Day, a former UN mission adviser in DRC and current head of programmes at UN University, said tension between locals in Beni and UN forces was nothing new.
“This is not a new problem. There’s been cycles of violence for at least the last five years,” he told Al Jazeera.
“There is a fairly predictable pattern, which is the Congolese army will do an attack against the ADF positions – the ADF will then attack civilian populations, and the civilian populations will then carry out either demonstrations or attacks – in this case against the UN.”
The spike in violence has complicated efforts to end the DRC’s current Ebola outbreak – its 10th to date and the second deadliest of its kind in history – which has killed more than 2,100 people since erupting in the country’s eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces in August last year.
WHO and local emergency responders have made recent gains in battling back the epidemic after months of struggling to win the trust of local populations sceptical over Ebola and health workers’ response efforts, with transmission rates dramatically curtailed.
But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said on Tuesday that continued insecurity in the area was meanwhile “prolonging” the Ebola outbreak and called for all “parties to halt the violence”.
“Ebola responders in Beni … are on lockdown amidst gunfire, riots & civil strife, but still trying to protect people at risk of contracting the virus,” Tedros said in a series of posts on Twitter.
#Ebola responders in Beni#DRC are on lockdown amidst gunfire, riots & civil strife, but still trying to protect people at risk of contracting the virus. Teams are arranging contact follow-up by phone and remotely guiding community health workers in places we can’t reach.
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) November 26, 2019
“Each day that we don’t have full access to all Ebola-affected areas in DRC we cede ground to the virus, prolonging the outbreak,” he added.
“This is a tragedy because it will only add to the suffering of already overburdened communities.”
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, for his part, said earlier this month he hoped the Ebola outbreak could be ended “completely by the end of the year” amid encouraging signs that efforts to beat back the virus were taking effect.
WHO says 42 days without new Ebola cases must pass since the last possible exposure to a confirmed case for an outbreak to be declared over.