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25 Nov, 2019 20:45

Protesters attack UN peacekeepers, torch mayor’s office over inaction after deadly militant attack in Congo (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

Protesters attack UN peacekeepers, torch mayor’s office over inaction after deadly militant attack in Congo (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

A militant attack, which killed eight civilians in the city of Beni, has sparked protests in DR Congo with angry locals targeting authorities and UN peacekeepers, accusing them of inaction and inability to curb violence.

The mass protests were triggered by a Sunday raid on the north eastern city, believed to be carried out by Islamists from the so-called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group. It is the latest tragedy in the persistent violence that has left over 2,000 people dead in the city alone over the last five years.

Protesting the government’s lack of action, a crowd several hundred strong gathered near the local city hall. The demonstration promptly got violent, and the mob looted and torched the city hall.

The crowd then turned its anger to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), accusing it of an inability to protect civilians and attacking its main compound on the outskirts of the city.

The mission, however, insists they are in the country only to provide support and treat the injured, explaining in a Twitter thread that MONUSCO troops cannot engage the militants on their own and will participate in combat operations only if the country’s government invites them to do so.

Such a stance appears to be exactly what the protesters were angered with, as they demanded MONUSCO to act or withdraw from the city altogether. Several buildings and vehicles, belonging to the mission were set alight by the mob.

“Several offices at the MONUSCO headquarters were set on fire and looted,” Teddy Kataliko, a civil society leader in Beni, said. “Residents are demanding the withdrawal of MONUSCO from Beni because of the inaction of UN forces.”

At least four people were killed by gunfire during the protests, local police said without specifying who exactly was shooting at the crowds. Graphic footage from the scene shows a dead civilian who sustained a gunshot to the head, carried away by fellow protesters.

Later in the day, the country’s presidency held an emergency meeting with MONUSCO over the Beni situation, announcing that the armed forces will stage “joint operations” in the city with the UN force. MONUSCO, for its part, ambiguously said it would “strengthen cooperation with its partners and work closely with the authorities to jointly find solutions for the people of Beni.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the site of several religious and ethnic conflicts, that have been dragging on for decades. The ADF became the target for a new offensive by the government forces last month – and the Islamist group retaliated by a string of Beni-like massacres. The raids have already resulted in more than 70 civilian deaths since the start of the government offensive.

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The UN peacekeeping mission – previously known as MONUC – has been in the country for two decades already. The mission is one of the biggest-ever UN deployments, encompassing some 16,000 peacekeepers. While the bloodshed in the country has actually never stopped, the force is scheduled to be gradually withdrawn by the end of 2022 at the latest. 

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