At least 15 people have been killed on the second day of anti-United Nations protests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s turbulent northeastern region, in attacks UN chief Antonio Guterres said could constitute a ‘war crime’.
Protests erupted on Monday as crowds took to the streets of North Kivu province’s main city Goma against the country’s UN mission – United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) – which they accuse of failing to stop armed groups’ decades-old fighting.
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Demonstrations spread further north to the towns of Beni and Butembo on Tuesday.
Five people were killed in Goma and about 50 others were wounded, according to government spokesman Patrick Muyaya.
Seven civilians were killed in Butembo, local police chief Colonel Paul Ngoma said.
One peacekeeper and two UN police officers were also killed in Butembo, the UN mission said in a statement.
The UN says that protesters have “violently snatched weapons” from the Congolese police and fired at peacekeeping forces. They had also been throwing stones and petrol bombs, breaking into bases, and looting and vandalising facilities, according to the organisation.
— MONUSCO (@MONUSCO) July 26, 2022
Translation: 1 blue helmet and 2 UN police officer have been killed this Tuesday in Butembo (#northKivu) during an attack to the MONUSCO’s base. The assailants have violently snatched the arms to PNC [Congolese National Police] soldiers and shot at our peacekeeping forces.
The UN Secretary General strongly condemned the violence, a spokesman said in a statement.
“He underscores that any attack directed against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime and calls upon the Congolese authorities to investigate these incidents and swiftly bring those responsible to justice,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
Haq told reporters earlier that the situation was extremely volatile and reinforcements were being mobilised. He stressed that UN forces had been told to exercise maximum restraint.
Earlier, Muyaya said on Twitter that security forces had fired “warning shots” at protesters to stop attacks on UN personnel.
MONUSCO is one of the world’s biggest peacekeeping operations. But it has regularly come under criticism in the troubled east, where many accuse it of failing to do enough to end decades of bloodshed.
More than 120 armed groups roam the volatile region, where civilian massacres are common and conflict has displaced millions of people.
In Monday’s unrest, hundreds of people in Goma blocked roads and chanted hostile slogans before storming MONUSCO’s headquarters and a supply base there.
Protesters smashed windows and looted valuables, while helicopters airlifted UN staff from the premises and security forces fired tear gas in a bid to push them back.
Congolese security forces held back a crowd outside the facility, with some protesters carrying placards that read “Bye-bye, MONUSCO.”
At Goma’s CBCA Ndosho Hospital, the head of administration, Serge Kilumbiro, told AFP that 28 people had been admitted with gunshot wounds on Monday and eight more on Tuesday.
In Beni, about 350km (217 miles) to the north, soldiers deployed on the road leading to the MONUSCO base there on Tuesday, while protesters burned tyres. Shops, markets and petrol stations were closed.
In nearby Butembo, security forces dispersed protesters who had gathered in front of a MONUSCO base, witnesses said.
Ngoma, the local police chief, said some youths were “armed”.
The latest protests come after Senate President Modeste Bahati Lukwebo told supporters in Goma on July 15 that MONUSCO should “pack its bags”.
The demonstrations coincide with the resurgence of the M23 – an armed group that lay mostly dormant for years before resuming fighting last November.
The rebels have since made significant advances in eastern Congo, including capturing the North Kivu town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border.