At least 19 people have been killed in two days of protests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo against a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the east of the country, which protesters accuse of failing to protect them from militia violence.
Four people protesting against UN force MONUSCO in the Congolese city of Uvira in South Kivu were killed on Wednesday when troops fired warning shots that hit an electric cable that fell on them, officials said.
“I have asked for investigations to know if the bullet was fired by MONUSCO or by our forces,” South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje Kasi said, adding that preliminary information suggested the fire had come from within the MONUSCO base.
At least 12 civilians and three UN peacekeepers, including one UN soldier and two UN police forces, have been killed and over 60 injured since Monday as violent anti-UN mission protests spread from Goma and Butembo to several towns on Wednesday.
On Monday, protesters blocked roads and chanted anti-UN slogans before attacking a warehouse of the MONUSCO in Goma, as well as a logistical base on the outskirts of the city.
A Reuters reporter saw UN peacekeepers shoot dead two protesters in Goma.
In a tweet, MONUSCO said on Wednesday that protesters had “violently snatched weapons” from Congolese police and fired at peacekeeping forces.
Over 120 armed groups operate in the troubled region, where conflict has displaced millions of people and civilian massacres are common.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday condemned the attacks and called on the government to bring the perpetrators to justice. A UN spokesman also said the world body would investigate reports that peacekeepers had been responsible for civilian deaths.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Wednesday that many children had been manipulated into joining the protests and had been exposed to violence.
“UNICEF condemns the instrumentalization of children for political purposes and calls on authorities, members of civil society and parents to keep children away from protests in order to protect them,” said Grant Leaity, UNICEF’s representative in the DR Congo, in a statement.
Ahead of the recent protests, a faction of the youth wing of President Felix Tshisekedi’s UDPS ruling party released a statement demanding MONUSCO “withdraw from Congolese soil without conditions because it has already proved its incapacity to provide us with protection.”
The UN peacekeeping mission has come under regular local criticism for its perceived inability to stop decades of militia violence in the conflict-torn east of the country.
MONUSCO took over from an earlier UN force in the DR Congo in 2010 with the aim of protecting civilians and supporting the government. The UN mission, which has around 12,400 troops in the DR Congo, and racks up a bill of $1 billion annually, has been in the process of gradually withdrawing from the country for several years but that hasn’t happened due to recurrent violence.