More than 100 people are believed dead or missing in the sinking of a makeshift vessel on the Congo river, provincial authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Saturday.
Fifty-one bodies had been recovered by late Friday from the sinking during the night of Monday to Tuesday, and another 69 are believed to be missing, Nestor Magbado, a spokesman for the governor of the northwestern province of Mongala, told AFP.
He said there were 39 survivors.
With no manifest of the passengers on board, the number missing is an estimate based on the capacity of the boat, he said.
The vessel was actually nine traditional wooden canoes, known as pirogues, all tied together, Magbado said.
He added that the accident may have been caused by “overcrowding aggravated by bad weather” during the night.
The scale of the accident was not clear until it was reported by media late on Friday, and confirmed on Saturday by provincial authorities.
Magbado said the Mongala authorities had informed Kinshasa of the sinking just after it occurred but had waited for more information about the number of casualties.
Search and rescue operations are continuing, but hopes are fading of finding more survivors, he said.
Provincial authorities have declared three days of mourning from Monday.
“Thanks to the experience gained in the management of the Ebola virus disease during previous epidemics, we are confident that the response teams… will manage to control this epidemic as soon as possible,” the statement said.
In early May, the DRC declared the end of its 12th Ebola outbreak, during which 12 cases were reported, with six deaths and hundreds of people vaccinated.
The disease had reappeared in February in an area of North Kivu that between August 2018 and June 2020 experienced the largest outbreak of Ebola in the history of the DRC — with 3,470 infections and 2,287 deaths.
Ebola is a viral haemorrhagic fever that was first identified in central Africa in 1976. The disease was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire.
Human transmission is through body fluids, with the main symptoms being fever, vomiting, bleeding, and diarrhoea.
A Democratic Republic of Congo policeman has shot a student who was not wearing a mask while filming on the streets of the capital, witnesses said on Sunday.
“Our friend Honore Shama, a student in the faculty of arts at the University of Kinshasa, was filming a video as part of his acting practical work requirement,” Patient Odia, a friend who was present at the confrontation, told AFP.
“A policeman told him to wear a mask during the filming.”
“Despite his (Shama’s) explanations and after having showed him a mask, the policeman, who was expecting to be offered money, became infuriated, accused him of resisting and shot him at point-blank range.”
Other witnesses told a similar story to the popular Top Congo radio as well as several online news sites.
The Democratic Republic of Congo scored a key heritage victory on Monday as UNESCO removed one of its nature reserves from a list of threatened sites, the UN agency said.
UNESCO praised the country’s conservation efforts and the government’s commitment to ban prospecting for oil in Salonga, the vast central African country’s largest public park.
The World Heritage Committee cited “improvements towards its conservation state” in its decision, according to a statement Monday.
“Regular monitoring of the wild fauna shows that the bonobo (ape) populations remain stable within the territory despite past pressure, and that the forest elephant population is starting to come back,” the statement said.
The Congolese environment ministry welcomed the move.
DR Congo’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday reversed its decision to place former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo under house arrest, his lawyer said.
The former prime minister “is no longer under house arrest… He returned to his home without being accompanied by police,” the lawyer Laurent Onyemba told AFP.
The court’s ruling came just the day after it had imposed the house arrest on Matata pending an investigation into embezzlement charges.
A magistrate, speaking anonymously, told AFP that Matata was not a flight risk and would “now respond to invitations from the prosecution as a free man”.
In May prosecutors asked parliament to lift the immunity granted to Matata in his new role as a senator so that he could face a probe over alleged corruption.
At the time the senate voted against lifting immunity, saying that the Constitutional Court which made the request was not empowered to try a parliamentarian.
For criminal proceedings in DR Congo, senators come under the jurisdiction of the Court of Cassation.
But on July 5, six members of the Senate office agreed to a demand by the prosecutor of the Constitutional Court to remove Matata’s parliamentary immunity.
Onyemba had responded to the original court decision to place his client under house arrest by saying it was a political decision.
The lawyer said the court was accusing the former PM of having ordered the payment of more than $110 million (93 million euros) to fictitious creditors and alleged victims of “Zaireanisation.”
Launched in the 1970s by then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seka, Zaireanisation entailed expropriating the assets of foreign entrepreneurs but without compensation.
The allegations are “false down the line,” Onyemba said.
Matata was minister of finance and then prime minister in the government of Joseph Kabila from 2010 until 2016.
In November, the IGF state spending watchdog reported that the equivalent of $205 million (173 million euros) had been plundered out of $285 million disbursed for a pilot agro-industrial scheme in Bukangalonzo, 250 kilometres (155 miles) southeast of the capital.
The IGF implicated Matata in its report, saying he was the “intellectual author” of the crime.
He denied the accusations and lodged a complaint against the IGF’s head and three other financial investigators over “slanderous” claims.
At least 20 people have been killed in fighting between armed groups and troops in Democratic Republic of Congo troops eastern highlands, a military source said.
In fighting on Saturday and Sunday between DR Congo troops and the Makanika-Twigwaneho-Ngumino coalition of armed groups, “the provisional toll is five soldiers killed, and on the enemy’s side there are 15 dead”, said Captain Dieudonne Kasereka, an army spokesman in eastern South Kivu region.
“Loyalists recaptured their positions in the center of Minembwe and its surroundings at around 10 am on Sunday.
Because of these clashes, “the population has dispersed in all directions”, he said, adding that people should now return as the “situation is under (the) control” of the army.
“Ngomino elements were also ambushed in Lwiko (2 km from Minembwe),” a UN source told AFP, without confirming the figure of 15 assailants killed as given by the army.
The Hauts Plateaux region is the scene of a conflict between armed groups formed on a communal basis, notably Tutsi Congolese with distant Rwandan origins, the Banyamulenge, and other communities.
On Saturday, from 5:00 am to 5:00 pm (0300 to 1500 GMT), loud bangs were reported in the city of Minembwe and its surroundings, the attackers having approached “up to one km from the headquarters of the army before being repulsed”, according to the army.
“A UN source told AFP that senior FARDC officers had spent the night (Saturday to Sunday) in the base of the UN Mission in the DRC (Monusco).
On Sunday morning “fighting was still going on”, according to a FARDC officer who was answering a question from AFP while directing operations at the front.
The coalition “Twigwaneho” (self-defence) and “Ngumino” (We Stay Here in Kinyamulenge) is composed of members of the Banyamulenge community.
These armed groups were joined by Colonel Michel Rukundo Makanika who deserted the army in early 2020 with a group of soldiers.
At least 14 civilians have been killed in fresh violence in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo and eight others suspected of collaborating with a notorious armed group have been lynched, sources said on Monday.
The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), an NGO which monitors violence in eastern DRC Congo, said at least 14 people were killed last Friday in three locations in Djugu territory, Ituri province, by assailants from a group called CODECO-URDPC.
Desire Malodra, a local civil society leader, said 15 people in the Djugu area died on Friday and Saturday in clashes between the DRC army and CODECO militiamen.
CODECO — for Cooperative for the Development of the Congo — is an armed political-religious sect that claims to defend the Lendu ethnic group.
It is one of more 120 armed groups that roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of bloody wars more than a quarter of a century ago.
The Lendu, mainly farmers, have been in historic conflict with the Hema community who are predominantly herders.
Tens of thousands of people on both sides died in a savage war between 1999 and 2003.
Violence returned in December 2017. CODECO has since been linked to more than 1,000 deaths.
A little further south, in Irumu territory, the army said eight civilians were “publicly lynched” on Thursday in Komanda, a town 75 kilometres (45 miles) south of the Ituri capital Bunia.
“We condemn (this) mob justice,” Lieutenant Jules Ngongo, the army spokesman in Ituri, told AFP.
The eight were from the Banyabwisha community, an ethnic group of Congolese Hutus with Rwandan roots.
In early June, the government accused members of the Banyabwisha community of “complicity” with the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a notorious Islamist armed group, following the massacre of some 50 civilians in Irumu territory.
The army urged the population not to “take justice into their own hands” but instead to inform on accomplices of armed groups so that the security forces could deal with them.
Gold-rich Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province have been placed under a “state of siege” by President Felix Tshisekedi, who has vowed to clamp down on the violence.
The eastern DR Congo city of Beni on Monday closed its schools, markets and churches for 48 hours after three bomb attacks over the weekend sparked fears of further violence.
The attacks included the first targeting a Catholic Church building and the first suicide bombing in the region, which has declared a “state of siege” after a string of massacres carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia.
Beni Mayor Narcisse Muteba announced a curfew late Sunday, saying that “everyone should go inside because we have information that something else is being planned”.
On Monday Muteba ordered all schools, churches and markets closed for two days.
“I don’t want to see any crowds, but we are calling on everyone to remain calm,” he said in a statement.
Muteba, a police colonel who replaced the city’s civilian leader a few weeks ago, also asked that anyone wanting to enter Beni carry their identity papers.
The measures come after a makeshift bomb went off in a Catholic church in Beni on Sunday morning, injuring two women, followed just hours later by a suicide bombing outside a bar.
The day before, a bomb exploded next to a petrol station on the outskirts of Beni without causing any damage.
The army said that the suicide bomber was “a Ugandan citizen who went by the name Ngudi Abdallah, and was very active alongside his leader, the sinister Amigo,” an ADF commander.
The army asked Beni residents to “report any suspicious movement, to dissociate themselves from the armed groups and to rally behind the armed forces”.
– ‘Boom’ –
The attack at the church in predominantly Catholic Beni took place just an hour before a children’s confirmation ceremony was due to be held.
“I had just entered the church, I hadn’t even managed to sit down, I heard ‘boom’… Blood started flowing from my mouth,” one of the women wounded in the blast, Antoinette Kavira, told AFP from her hospital bed.
Beni is in the North Kivu province, one of two regions that President Felix Tshisekedi placed under a “state of siege” on May 6 in a bid to clamp down on militia violence.
The ADF is the deadliest of an estimated 122 armed militias that roam the mineral-rich east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that ran from 1996 to 2003.
Historically a Ugandan Islamist group, it has holed up in eastern DRC since 1995.
The ADF is accused of having killed 6,000 people since 2013, according to the Catholic episcopate.
And the Kivu Security Tracker monitor says it has killed more than 1,200 civilians in the Beni area alone since 2017.
In March, the United States said the ADF was linked to the Islamic State group.