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At least 15 killed as anti-U.N. protests flare in east Congo

DJAFFAR SABITI and FISTON MAHAMBA

THREE United Nations peacekeepers and at least 12 civilians were killed during a second day of violent anti-U.N. protests in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities said.

The protests were spurred by complaints that the U.N. mission, known as MONUSCO, has failed to protect civilians against militia violence which has raged for years.

Demonstrations began on Monday in the city of Goma and spread on Tuesday to Butembo, where a U.N. soldier and two U.N. police with the mission were shot dead, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

In both cities U.N. peacekeeping troops were accused of retaliating with force as hundreds of protesters threw rocks and petrol bombs, vandalized and set fire to U.N. buildings.

A Reuters reporter saw U.N. peacekeepers shoot dead two protesters in Goma, where government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said at least five people were killed and 50 wounded.

In Butembo at least seven civilians were killed and an unknown number wounded, said the city’s police chief Paul Ngoma.

U.N. peacekeeping missions have been beset by accusations of abuse for years.

“Obviously if there’s any responsibility by U.N. forces for any of the injuries or any of the deaths, we will follow up on that,” Haq said.

U.N. forces were advised to use tear gas to disperse protesters and only fire warning shots if needed, he said.

The protests were called by a faction of the ruling party’s youth wing, which has demanded the U.N. mission withdraw over what it describes as its ineffectiveness. 

Congolese policemen disperse protesters along the road near the compound of a United Nations peacekeeping force’s warehouse in Goma in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo July 26, 2022. REUTERS/Arlette Bashizi

Resurgent clashes between local troops and the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo in recent months have displaced thousands. Attacks by militants linked to Islamic State have also continued despite a year-long state of emergency and joint operations against them by the Congolese and Ugandan armies.

“We have been doing our utmost, not just for years, but really for decades to try to bring stability to Eastern Congo,” said Haq, adding that U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix is expected to travel to Congo as soon as he can.

MONUSCO took over from an earlier U.N. operation in 2010. MONUSCO had more than 12,000 troops and 1,600 police deployed as of November 2021 and has been gradually withdrawing for years.

Protesters also stormed the houses of U.N. workers in Goma, spurring the mission to relocate its staff to camps. A Reuters reporter saw staff being evacuated in a convoy with an army escort.

India’s foreign minister said two of the peacekeepers who died were Indian. Ngoma said the third one was Moroccan.

The U.N. Security Council is due to be briefed on the situation behind closed doors on Tuesday, diplomats said.