Gunfire rang out in the DR Congo town of Beni on Monday as protesters demanding the United Nations’ withdrawal from the city again marched towards the UN headquarters.
“The army is saying the protests are no longer peaceful. They will not accept protesters to gather anywhere near the UN compound,” Alain Uaykani said after attending a press conference by the army on Monday.
“They are saying the enemy are the rebels. The rebels are the ones killing civilians. The UN is not the enemy, that is what the army is saying,” Uaykani said.
Anger erupted last week over the perceived failure of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians from deadly rebel attacks.
Eight Beni residents were killed late on November 24 by suspected ADF fighters, prompting angry protesters to take to the streets.
Christoph Vogel, a researcher at the University of Ghent, Brussels and a former UN expert on DRC, said the situation was extremely concerning with the deadly attacks that began in 2014 and the ongoing Ebola outbreak.
Demonstrators accuse both the DRC’s security forces and MONUSCO – one of the world’s biggest peacekeeping missions that has operated in DR Congo for the past two decades – of not doing enough to stop rebel attacks on civilians.
“While the army is doing its best to neutralise the ADF rebellion, the rebels are preying on defenceless civilians by way of revenge,” said Donat Kibwana, administrator of the territory of Beni, on Sunday.
Nearly a month ago, the DRC’s armed forces announced they had launched an offensive to wipe out armed groups in eastern DRC.
During previous military operations against the ADF, its fighters retaliated by attacking civilians, local activists say.
Violence in the region is hampering efforts to halt the spread of the Ebola virus, which has killed 2,200 people since August 2018.
International organisations warned on Friday of a potential resurgence of the virus after deadly militia attacks on health centres forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the epidemic’s last strongholds.