Two officers arrested over DR Congo crackdown as death toll rises to 56

Security forces used lethal force last week to repress planned anti-UN protests in the city of Goma.

Family members of Claude Amani, 32, allegedly killed by the army as he planned to demonstrate against the UN presence, mourn his death on the day after a military operation in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on August 31, 2023. At least 48 people have been killed and 168 arrested in a crackdown on an anti-UN protest in eastern DR Congo, according to sources and official documentation. On August 30, 2023, Congolese soldiers stopped a religious sect from holding a demonstration against United Nations peacekeepers in the city of Goma
Family members of Claude Amani, 32, allegedly killed by the army as he planned to demonstrate against the UN presence in the DRC, mourn his death on the day after a military operation in Goma in the eastern DRC on August 31, 2023 [AFP]

Two high-ranking military officers in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been arrested for taking part in a crackdown on protests last week that killed dozens of people.

Interior Minister Peter Kazadi said police on Monday had arrested Commanders Mike Mikombe and Donat Bawili, who respectively headed the Republican Guard unit and the DRC armed forces regiment in Goma, the eastern city where the violence unfolded.

Defence and security forces used lethal force on Wednesday to repress planned anti-United Nations protests in Goma. A government delegation arrived in the city on Monday to hold hearings and other proceedings “to establish responsibility”, Kazadi said.

“We have no interest in hiding anything. The whole truth will be known,” Kazadi said. Authorities called on families of the people killed to come forward with information for the inquiry.

The death toll, which was initially given as 43, has risen to 56, according to an update on Tuesday by the military prosecutor.

On August 23, Goma’s mayor banned a protest organised by a sect called the Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith Towards the Nations, known colloquially as Wazalendo. Its supporters planned to demonstrate against the East African Community organsation and the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

‘People have expectations’

The UN mission, known by its French acronym MONUSCO, has faced increased pressure to withdraw after more than two decades in the DRC.

“People have expectations that if their government is unable to protect them, at the least the UN will do it, but over the years, the UN was unable to prevent attacks or to respond to them adequately, so they [citizens] feel like they [the UN] are useless,” Amnesty International’s Jean-Mobert Senga told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

“MONUSCO for 10 years now has had an offensive mandate. … People are angry and saying if you can’t protect us, then just leave,” he added.

Another advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, said on Thursday that before the protests could take place, armed forces fired on Wazalendo demonstrators in the streets, kicking off an “apparent massacre”.

The UN human rights office said more than 220 people were arrested in connection with the planned protests and the subsequent crackdown.

“After expressing his anger and dismay at the tragic events in Goma, [President Felix Tshisekedi] called on the judiciary to shed light on the tragedy and establish who was responsible,” presidential spokesperson Tina Salama said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Young protesters outraged at the killings barricaded roads in Goma on Monday morning. The city remained paralysed into the afternoon when police succeeded in dispersing the protesters without major incident and reopened roads.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies