Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has declared a “state of siege” over the escalating violence in the eastern provinces of Ituri and North Kivu.
A surge in attacks by armed groups and intercommunal fighting in the DRC’s east have killed more than 300 people since the start of the year, deepening a humanitarian and displacement crisis in the mineral-rich territory.
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Announcing Tshisekedi’s decision late on Friday, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said: “The objective is to swiftly end the insecurity which is killing our fellow citizens in that part of the country on a daily basis.”
He did not say what steps would be taken next under the state of siege.
Kambale Musavali, analyst at Centre for Research on the Congo-Kinshasa, said it looked increasingly likely the government would send in more troops to the two affected regions, where government troops and United Nations peacekeepers have struggled to contain the violence.
“This is a prelude to what I believe will be military operations in the area,” Musavali told Al Jazeera. “It’s worrisome because we’ve had military operations in the DRC,” he said.
“Hearing this state of siege taking place, it may bring confidence to the population as this is a path in the right direction, but the question that must be asked is how is this military action different from previous military actions.”
Yesterday, @Presidence_RDC declared a “state of siege” for two provinces (Kivu and Ituri) in the DRC. This is a precursor to Kenyan troops and @USAfricaCommand military actions. Is this a path in right direction?
— #CongoIsBleeding (@kambale) May 1, 2021
On Thursday, Tshisekedi said he was preparing “radical measures” to deal with the security situation in the east of the country.
That followed the prime minister suggesting on Monday that a state of emergency might be declared in the east, “replacing the civil administration with a military administration”.
An estimated 122 armed groups of varying sizes operate in the eastern DRC, many a legacy of catastrophic regional wars in the 1990s.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group formed in neighbouring Uganda more than 20 years ago, is believed to be responsible for much of the recent bloodshed.
It has committed a spate of brutal reprisal attacks on civilians since the army began operations against it in late 2019, killing about 850 people last year, according to UN figures.
The violence has fuelled a humanitarian crisis with more than 1.6 million people displaced in Ituri out of a total population of 5.7 million people, UNICEF said in April. Some 2.8 million people there are in need of some form of emergency assistance, it said.
On Friday, police and soldiers in Beni, in North Kivu, used tear gas and whips to disperse high-school students protesting that failure.
Several dozen students had been camping outside the town hall over the past week, demanding the departure of the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO and for Tshisekedi to visit the troubled region. The protesters accuse the peacekeepers of failing to stop rebel attacks.