Police in the city of Butembo in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have said a “stray bullet” killed a demonstrator in a protest against perceived failure by the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the region to stem massacres of civilians by armed groups.
“Stones were thrown when police moved in to remove a barricade. Unfortunately, a demonstrator was hit by a stray bullet and died,” Jean-Paul Ngoma, local police chief, said on Friday.
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He did not say who fired the round.
Leon Tsongo, member of a campaign group called Parlement Debout (“Parliament, Rise”), said “the policeman who shot our comrade” was just six metres (20 feet) away.
“His only wrong was to demand that MONUSCO (the UN force) leave our city, because its troops do absolutely nothing to protect the public from the massacres,” he said.
Anti-MONUSCO protests and strikes have erupted in several cities in North Kivu province over the past week. On Thursday, police in Beni detained dozens of people and fired live rounds to disperse demonstrators.
“We only demand two things: for MONUSCO to leave and for the Congolese government to take its responsibility so that we can have peace,” said Clovis Mutsova, a member of youth activist group LUCHA.
Responding to the anti-UN protests, MONUSCO spokesman Mathias Gillmann said on Wednesday: “We are here at the invitation of the government. It is not us who decides that we stay.”
In December 2019, several people were killed in Beni and Goma as angry protesters took to the streets to call for the withdrawal of MONUSCO forces who they accused of not protecting them against deadly rebel attacks.
MONUSCO took over from an earlier peacekeeping mission in 2010. It has more than 12,000 troops deployed, most in the east where killings more than doubled last year.
The DRC’s volatile east is home to more than 100 rebel groups, including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which is blamed for most attacks.
The ADF originated in the 1990s in western Uganda intending to establish a so-called “Islamic state”. According to Kivu Security Tracker, the group has killed more than 1,200 civilians in the Beni area alone since 2017.
On March 19, the UN said a surge of ADF attacks since the start of the year had killed nearly 200 people and forced 40,000 to flee their homes.
At least 23 people were killed by suspected fighters from the group last week in Beu Manyama-Moliso village in the Beni region. More than 17 others were killed in separate attacks on March 23.
Last year, the UN said the group’s attacks could constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.