At least 15 people have been killed and dozens injured in two days of demonstrations in eastern Congo against a UN mission in the country, officials say.
The UN confirmed that one peacekeeper and two international police officers serving with the UN peacekeeping force were killed and another wounded at the UN base in Butembo in North Kivu province in the east when “the attackers drew weapons from the Congolese police” and opened fire on UN staff. .
Deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said reports of civilian casualties, including reports of civilians being killed and injured by UN peacekeepers, would be investigated.
He said that on Tuesday, hundreds of attackers again attacked the bases of the UN force, known by French acronym MONUSCO, in Goma, as well as in other parts of North Kivu, “fueled by hostile speech and threats made by individuals and groups against the UN, especially in social networks.”
“Crowds are throwing rocks and firebombs, breaking into bases, looting and vandalizing and setting fire to facilities,” Mr Haq said, adding that “we are trying to calm the situation,” including by sending rapid reaction forces, but there are no proof that the violence is over.
In addition, Mr. Haq said that at least four incidents targeted the residences of MONUSCO personnel who are currently being relocated to UN camps. The crowd also tried to enter the United Nations Development Program grounds earlier Tuesday, but were repulsed by security, he said.
Demonstrators on Monday set fire to and stormed the offices of the UN mission in Goma, accusing peacekeeping forces of failing to protect civilians amid growing violence in the eastern region of the Congo. They are calling for UN forces that have been in the Congo for years to leave.
Congo police said at least six people were killed in Goma and eight civilians in Butembo on Monday.
Earlier, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said at least five people had been killed and about 50 injured by Monday.
The protesters blamed the deaths on the shots fired by the peacekeepers.
The mineral-rich east of the Congo is home to countless rebel groups, and the region’s security has deteriorated despite a year of emergency operations by the combined forces of the Congo and Uganda armies. Civilians in the east have also had to deal with violence from jihadist rebels linked to the Islamic State group.
A government spokesman did not say what caused the deaths, but on Twitter he described the reaction of security forces and peacekeepers as “warning shots to disperse demonstrators and prevent any attack on the MONUSCO base and installations.”
“The government has instructed the security forces to take all measures to ensure the restoration of calm and the normal resumption of activities in Goma,” he said. He also confirmed that steps were already being taken to withdraw the peacekeeping forces.
In June 2021 and June 2022, the peacekeeping mission closed its offices in the Congo Central Kasai and Tanganyika regions. More than 16,000 troops are in the mission in the Congo, according to the UN.
The protests come as fighting escalates between Congolese troops and M23 rebels, forcing nearly 200,000 people from their homes. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, M23 forces have demonstrated increased firepower and defensive capabilities.
Acting head of MONUSCO, Hassim Dian, and UN spokesman Mr. Haq condemned the killings of UN personnel.
Mr Haq said the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who is currently in Mali, will travel to the Congo “at the earliest opportunity”.
Mr. Dian called the violence against the UN “completely unacceptable” and “counterproductive” given MONUSCO’s mission to protect civilians, deter armed groups and build the capacity of government institutions and services.
Mr Haq responded to a question about whether the UN efforts were unsuccessful because armed groups are still roaming the country, saying “our presence has provided protection, but has not solved the problem” that involves the region and the rival armed groups for the control of minerals. resource rich regions.
As part of this, he said, the UN is “doing everything possible” to ensure that people’s lives and fundamental freedoms are not taken away.
Mr Haq said the UN had plans to reduce its peacekeeping forces and even withdraw from the Congo, but “we stayed because the situation on the ground is too dangerous for us to think about leaving and putting so many people at risk” .