A crowd in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has lynched two people they suspected of being members of a rebel group blamed for the killing of more than 100 civilians over the past month.
The army, however, said the pair were a sergeant and his wife.
The killings on Saturday night came on the same day that the United Nations‘s peacekeeping chief visited eastern DRC, where anti-UN protests have erupted since the rebel attacks.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Wambua-Soi said the couple initially hailed a taxi to take them to Oicha, where 28 people died during a previous attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a shadowy armed group with links to Ugandan rebel groups, earlier in the week.
“The taxi driver got uncomfortable because he said Oicha is not safe,” Wambua-Soi said, speaking from Goma. “He took them to the main taxi office where they were questioned, but their answers were not clear.”
The couple who were wearing civilian clothes did not have IDs and when their bags were searched, military uniforms, bullets and medical kits were found, she continued.
A crowd of several dozen had gathered by then and accused the pair of being members of the ADF before they “stoned them to death”, Wambua-Soi said.
“They didn’t have ID and when we checked their bags we found ammunition, military garb and cartridge clips,” said Fabrice Muhindo, who works at the car park where the lynchings took place.
“They are ADF members who were on their way to an operation against the population. We neutralised them,” he told AFP.
The two were actually an army sergeant and his wife, the army said late on Saturday.
Sergeant Bahati Sisimbume was heading to his duty station in Ituri province, north of Beni, army spokesman Mak Hazukai told AFP.
The killings came after another soldier was lynched in Oicha, 30km (20 miles) north of Beni, on Friday by civilians who mistook him for an ADF member.
The visit to Beni of UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix came several days after a mob stormed a UN base in the town in protest over a perceived failure of peacekeepers to stop militia violence.
“Make no mistake about who the enemies are,” Lacroix said during his brief stay in the city before leaving for the neighbouring Ituri province.
“The enemies are those who attack and kill the population. It is also they who attack those who help the inhabitants of this region fight against Ebola,” he said.
At least seven people have been killed in clashes during the anti-UN protests this week.
The east of the DRC has been troubled for years by violence, but most recent attacks are blamed on the ADF.
DRC forces launched operations against the ADF in the restive eastern region at the end of October. In response, the ADF carried out massacres in an apparent bid to discourage civilians from helping the military.
Another 27 people were hacked to death on Wednesday, bringing the number of people killed in the violence to 107 since November 5 in and around Beni.
The European Union has also condemned the “cowardly attacks” by the armed groups and called for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“Closer cooperation is needed between the FARDC [DRC’s armed forces] and MONUSCO to reinforce protective measures for civilians,” an EU spokesman said in a statement on Friday.
MONUSCO, one of the biggest UN peacekeeping operations in the world, today comprises more than 16,500 military personnel and observers, 1,300 police and at least 4,000 civilians.
But it has struggled to make progress in a vast country beset by armed groups as well as an Ebola epidemic, poverty and poor governance.
Responding to criticism of inaction, MONUSCO says its troops are unable to deploy in combat without the approval of the host country and in coordination with national forces.
The DRC presidency earlier this week announced joint military operations with the UN to re-establish security in the Beni area.