At least 15 people have died in separate attacks by armed groups in DR Congo’s troubled northeastern province of Ituri, local sources and monitors said on Monday.
A militia group called CODECO on Sunday ransacked the village of Mabanga in Djugu territory, “killing six people, including four women,” Ngandjole Assani, a representative of local grassroots groups, told AFP.
“There were no (Congolese army) troops around,” Assani said.
In Irumu territory farther south, members of CODECO and a group called the Patriotic and Integrationist Force of the Congo (FPIC) on Sunday attacked the village of Kokonyangi, a local chief said.
“Eleven bodies were found and 10 other civilians were injured,” said Jonas Lemi Zorabo, a traditional leader in the Babao-Bokoe area.
A US-headquartered monitoring group, the Kivu Security Tracker, said nine people died in Kokonyangi.
The armed forces in Ituri confirmed the attacks but did not provide further details.
CODECO — the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) — claims to defend the Lendu ethnic group, which has a long history of blood feuds with the Hema community.
Fighting between the two communities flared between 1999 and 2003, claiming tens of thousands of lives before being quelled by a European Union peacekeeping force, Artemis.
Violence then resumed in 2017, blamed on the emergence of CODECO.
Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province have been under a “state of siege” since May — a measure aimed at speeding the response to armed groups by replacing senior civilian officers with officers from the security forces.
More than 120 armed groups roam eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them the legacy of full-scale wars that flared in the 1990s.
A suicide bomber killed at least five people at a crowded night spot in the city of Beni in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday, local officials reported.
Officials blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia, one of the deadliest armed groups in the region and claimed by the Islamic State group as its central Africa arm.
“The suicide bomber, prevented by security from gaining access to the bar, packed with clients, activated the bomb at the entrance,” said a statement from military officials running North Kivu province.
Another 13 people were being treated for their wounds in hospitals, the statement added, describing the death toll as provisional.
Shortly after the blast, Narcisse Muteba, the colonel running the city during the state of emergency in the east of the country, had called on residents to return to their homes for their own safety.
An AFP correspondent saw the remains of three bodies at the site of the explosion, the In Box restaurant. The remains of tables, chairs, bottles and glasses were scattered across the blast site.
One city hall source told AFP that two children were among the dead, as well as two local officials.
More than 30 people were celebrating Christmas there when the bomb went off, two witnesses told AFP.
“I was sitting there,” local radio presenter Nicolas Ekila told AFP. “There was a motorbike parked there. Suddenly the motorbike took off, then there was a deafening noise.”
A police vehicle took the wounded to a nearby medical centre, which was immediately sealed off.
– Operations against the ADF –
On June 27 in Beni, a blast from a improvised bomb at a Catholic church wounded two women, the same day a man died when the bomb he was carrying went off.
The day before, another device blew up near a service station without doing any damage. The authorities blamed those attacks on the ADF.
Beni, in North Kivu province on the DRC’s eastern border with Uganda, has been the site of regular clashes between the army and the ADF.
North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province have been under a “state of siege” since May, an emergency measure in which the military has taken effective control but which so far has not succeeded in stopping the attacks from the armed militia.
On November 30, the DRC and Uganda launched a joint operation against the ADF in the east of the country to try to quell the bloody ADF attacks. Uganda has also blamed the group for a string of attacks on its territory.
The ADF was historically a Ugandan rebel coalition whose biggest group comprised Muslims opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
But it established itself in eastern DRC in 1995, becoming the deadliest of scores of outlawed forces in the troubled region.
It has been blamed for the killings of thousands of civilians over the past decade in the DRC, as well as for bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
The Islamic State group presents the ADF as its regional branch — the Islamic State Central Africa Province, or ISCAP.
On March 11 this year, the United States placed the ADF on its list of “terrorist groups” affiliated with IS jihadists.
At least one policeman died Monday in the eastern DR Congo city of Goma as police fired tear gas and live bullets to break up a protest against rising crime.
The demonstrators converged on arterial roads early in the morning, setting up barricades and burning tyres in the capital of the Nord Kivu province, an AFP reporter said.
Police fired tear gas and used live rounds to disperse the crowd, the reporter said, adding that a policeman was killed and his body taken to the local morgue.
The main market in the city centre was closed, as well as banks and schools, following the call for a general shutdown to denounce rising crime in the city of some 600,000 people.
Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi placed the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri under a “state of siege” in May to intensify a battle against rebels, with soldiers replacing civil servants in key positions.
The move was initially welcomed by many locals in a region that has been devastated by rebel attacks and home to several militia groups for 25 years.
But several violent incidents have taken place in the last few weeks. Two people have died and several have been injured in two incidents last week.
The protesters also said they “categorically oppose the entry of Rwandan policemen in Goma” as per an agreement signed between the two countries last week to combat cross-border trafficking.
But DRC police chief General Dieudonne Amuli Bahigwa on Saturday said any suggestion that Rwandan soldiers would be charged with maintaining law and order in Goma was “a complete lie”.
A year ago, the world kicked off one of the greatest initiatives in medical history: the rush to vaccinate Earth’s human population against Covid-19.
Since the launch of mass vaccination in Britain on November 8, 2020, billions of jabs have since poured off production lines and rich countries are lining up booster shots to top up protection for their citizens.
But in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there’s little talk of a vaccine success story.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country ranks among the least immunised nations in the world, although it has also so far been spared a heavy toll from the pandemic.
According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, just 142,913 doses of vaccine have been dished out, and only 56,167 people have been fully vaccinated.
In a population of 90 million, a mere 0.16 percent have received one dose — and this falls to just 0.06 for those who have been fully vaccinated.
In early March, 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, dispatched via the Covax mechanism for poorer countries, arrived in the DRC to a triumphant welcome.
But just afterward, several European countries suspended vaccination campaigns with AstraZeneca over fears that it caused rare but serious blood clotting.
The DRC authorities postponed the start of vaccinations with AstraZeneca — the only jab then available in the country — until mid-April.
But at the same time, wild rumours flooded social media, claiming that vaccination made people sterile or that Africans were to be used as “guinea pigs” or even killed.
The coronavirus was presented as a “white man’s disease” brought into the DRC by travellers.
Perhaps the biggest blow came from none other than President Felix Tshisekedi, who made his suspicions of the AstraZeneca jab widely known.
“I think I was right not to be vaccinated … I had my doubts,” he said, adding that he preferred to wait for other vaccines before taking the plunge.
The rollout began so badly that it quickly became clear that the DRC’s AstraZeneca stockpile would go unused before it reached its shelf life of four months.
Covax rushed to find other African countries more receptive to AstraZeneca, and 1.4 million of the doses were despatched abroad.
A vaccine shortage then ensued, lasting for more than a month before other formulas arrived.
In mid-September, Tshisekedi received his first dose in front of the official media.
For several weeks the president, his shirt sleeve rolled up, appeared on posters receiving his injection with the message: “I was vaccinated — do as I did.”
‘COVID-19 Does Not Exist’
Many Congolese say they have not been vaccinated “yet” or are waiting to see, but among others, scepticism runs deep.
Emmanuel, a 62-year-old police officer, said his wife was vaccinated in France, where she works in the medical profession.
The shot did not make her sick, but her husband remained unconvinced.
“They say that vaccines in Europe are not the same as here,” he said by way of explanation.
Fabrice, a 21-year-old architecture student, said he would have to get a jab as he plans to travel to Canada — but he would not have wanted one otherwise.
“In my opinion, Covid does not exist,” Fabrice said, adding he did not even know anyone who has caught it.
According to official figures, the DRC has had 58,306 confirmed cases of coronavirus, of which 1,103 have been fatal. The WHO cautions that six out of every seven Covid infections go undetected in Africa.
So far, little in day-to-day life in the DRC gives the impression that a deadly pandemic is afoot. The announcement of new and much-feared Omicron variant is barely a week old and its impact has yet to be felt.
“The disease that kills the most in the DRC is malaria,” said Genevieve Begkoyian of the UN’s children’s fund UNICEF.
The mosquito-borne disease claims some 20,000 lives in the DRC each year. In addition, when Covid-19 arrived, the country was also faced with Ebola, measles, yellow fever, polio and cholera, not to mention malnutrition and poverty in general.
Clock Is Ticking
Lately, a flurry of activity has been seen in several cities and the media are broadcasting advertisements on tackling the coronavirus, while a vaccination centre was set up on Monday in Kinshasa.
But the DRC has a long way to go.
The country now has a stockpile of more than a million doses of different vaccines, but faces the task of distributing them across a country the size of continental Western Europe where roads and the electricity supply are notoriously poor.
Meeting the challenge is crucial.
The vaccines have a limited shelf life — failure to deliver in time will mean the authorities will have to toss out unused doses or once more give away another batch of lifesavers.
Inmates have escaped en masse from a crowded old prison in the western Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said Sunday, with at least one guard reported killed.
Two armed men arrived at the entrance to Matadi prison, subdued the guards and opened the main gate, allowing a large number of prisoners to flee, the prison’s deputy director Apolonia Londo told local media.
Commissioner Jean-Pierre Nzolani said meanwhile that police officers around the prison witnessed inmates escaping from a breach in the walls.
“They (police) shot in the air, but more than 300 people came toward them, grabbed their weapons from them and killed a policeman,” Nzolani said.
Another officer was shot and seriously injured, he added.
“Was it an inside job, a plot prepared for a long time?” the commissioner added. “We are trying to figure it out.”
Longo said that the prison had held 737 prisoners on Saturday morning but a headcount was under way to determine how many escaped.
The central prison in Matadi, the main city in Kongo province, was built in 1939 and is supposed to house 150 inmates.
Gunmen killed a police officer and kidnapped five Chinese nationals working at a gold mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-plagued east on Sunday, military sources said.
Regional army spokesman Major Dieudonne Kasereka said that “at around 2 am, the camp of the Chinese group was attacked by armed bandits” in the village of Mukera in Fizi territory of South Kivu province.
“There were 14 in total, five were taken away by the attackers to an unknown destination,” he said, adding that the other nine were safely evacuated.
Colonel David Epanga, head of the armed forces in Fizi, said one policeman was killed and another was wounded in the attack.
The five abducted Chinese workers were employees of a company that has been operating a gold mine in the area for four to five months, Fizi civil society head Lusambya Wanumbe said.
“The company had difficulties starting its activities because of protests by the population which accused it of not respecting the rules,” Wanumbe said.
In August, South Kivu authorities suspended the work of half a dozen Chinese-financed companies, after residents accused them of mining for gold without permission and wrecking the environment.
Gorilla park raid
In neighbouring North Kivu, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) said that suspected rebels linked to the M23 movement killed a guard in Virunga National Park on Saturday night.
The ICCN said the attack was “carried out by around a hundred heavily armed individuals” near the village of Bukima, in the Mikeno area.
“The presumed perpetrators are former M23 members gathered on the Rwandan and Ugandan borders, who are seeking to establish bases on the territory of the Virunga National Park,” the ICCN said in a statement on Sunday.
The M23 is one of more than 120 armed groups which roam eastern Democratic Republic of Congo — a legacy of regional wars more than two decades ago.
It is a Congolese Tutsi group that was largely defeated in 2013 after launching a rebellion.
The militants were accused of attacking army positions close to the park and the Ugandan border on November 8, which the group’s leadership denied.
The Virunga National Park, a UNESCO listed world heritage site, is home to endangered mountain gorillas — particularly in the Mikeno area.
Also in North Kivu on Sunday, the road to Uganda was blocked by angry residents who blamed the police for not acting overnight on the kidnapping of four people in the Rangira area, local civil society sources said.
The protesters set fire to the local police station before going to block the road with tree trunks and burning tires.
The road was eventually cleared after talks with military authorities.
Six rebels, two policemen and a soldier were killed when an armed group raided the eastern DR Congo town of Bukavu early Wednesday, the governor of South Kivu province said.
“The FARDC (armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and police… killed six assailants, wounded four others, took 36 captives and recovered 14 weapons,” Governor Theo Ngwabidje Kasi told the press.
“We also sadly lost three members of our security force,” he said.
Ngwabidje said the town had been attacked from 1 am by a group that had targeted several police stations.
“The situation is under control,” he said.
He said investigations were underway to identify the attackers.
A military source earlier said the assailants were from a previously unknown group called the CPC64.
The region’s military commander, Bob Kilubi Ngoy, said the group had sought to free members who had been arrested by police several days earlier.
The group attacked a military base in a bid to steal ammunition but were pushed back, and then tried to head to the town centre but were also repelled, he said.
Light and heavy weapons fire continued until the early morning, prompting residents to shelter at home.
The authorities showed off men whom they described as arrested rebels, as well as the 14 seized weapons.
Most of the captives were young, barefoot and wearing civilian clothes.
More than 120 armed groups roam the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), many of them a legacy of regional wars that flared a quarter-century ago.
South Kivu, which lies on the border with Rwanda and Burundi, has been badly hit by their attacks, although the overnight raid on Bukavu is the town’s biggest attack in years.
At least 14 civilians were killed in northeastern DR Congo early on Friday when their village was attacked by two armed groups, monitors said.
The deaths occurred in the village of Gina in Ituri province, “during an incursion by the #CODECO-UDPC and ALC” groups, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) said on Twitter.
“They also attacked #Nizi, in the same territory,” it said.
The assault began at 4:00 am and lasted for seven hours until the armed forces regained control of the area, one of its specialists told AFP, asking not to be identified.
Ituri is one of three eastern provinces in the vast Democratic Republic of Congo battling armed groups.
The gold-rich province has a long history of ethnic feuds, some of which are rooted in long-standing herder-farmer disputes over cattle.
Fighting between the Hema and Lendu communities flared between 1999 and 2003, claiming tens of thousands of lives.
It was quelled by the intervention of a European Union peacekeeping force, Artemis.
Violence resumed in 2017, blamed on the emergence of the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO), an armed group that claims to defend Lendu interests. CODECO has since split into several rival factions.
The village of Gina is mainly inhabited by Lendu, and before the attack was under the control of the armed forces.
CODECO fighters joined up with another armed group, the Alliance for the Liberation of the Congo (ALC), to carry out the raid, the KST said.
In Nizi, two civilians were killed as they tried to flee, a military spokesman said. Local civil society groups put the civilian toll at four dead.
A vehicle used by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) came under attack in the same area, the charity said earlier.
Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu were placed under a “state of siege” on May 6 — an exceptional measure aimed at combatting armed groups, especially the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which has been blamed for taking thousands of lives.
Under this tactic, the authorities have replaced senior civilian officials in the two provinces with military or police officers.
Hundreds of secondary school pupils demonstrated outside the Democratic Republic of Congo’s parliament on Thursday, calling for lessons to resume three weeks into a teachers’ strike.
“We want to study,” the children chanted as they stormed up the steps and into the debating chamber.
Videos shared by journalists on social media showed them being met by the parliament’s deputy speaker.
Congolese schools officially reopened on October 4, but lessons are yet to begin in many institutions as teachers have been striking for higher wages.
Schools minister Tony Mwaba has warned those participating in walkouts that they could be struck off the payroll altogether.
He has so far not responded to an opposition senator’s proposal to replace strikers with new teachers.
President Felix Tshisekedi has made free primary-school education central to his policy since September 2019, at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion per year — compared with a total government budget of almost $7.0 billion in 2021.
Pressure group Fight For Change (Lucha) said that “free education is suffering from a lack of planning,” and called on the government to find “appropriate temporary measures to save the new school year”