United Nations ‘Alarmed’ By DR Congo Crackdown

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres 
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

The UN said it was “deeply alarmed” by the actions of security forces in DR Congo during anti-Kabila protests in Kinshasa last Sunday, and believe the toll of victims during the crackdown “may be higher”.

“Our colleagues on the ground were denied access to morgues, hospitals and detention centres. They were sent away from some sites by defence and security forces,” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said from Geneva in a statement on Friday.

“The security forces allegedly fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas grenades, in some cases at point blank range,” the statement added.

The organisation said at least five people were known to have been killed and 92 injured. Around 180 were arrested, most of whom have now been released, it said.

The DR Congo government said nobody was killed Sunday in connection with the marches, which were organised by the Catholic Church.

Together with opposition groups, the Church was demanding that President Joseph Kabila — in power since the assassination of his father in 2001 — will declare he will not stand for re-election in 2018.

The protests took place on the first anniversary of a deal under which Kabila was scheduled to leave office in 2017 after fresh elections.

The poll has since been postponed until December 2018. Western powers have accepted the delay with reluctance, hoping it will avoid bloodshed and encourage stability in this vast and volatile central African country.

The OHCHR called for “credible and independent investigations into alleged use of excessive force”.

“The Government should ensure that everyone, including political opponents, journalists and civil society representatives, are able to fully exercise their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, opinion, and expression,” it said.

AFP

UN To Investigate DR Congo Attack On Peacekeepers

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York 
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

The United Nations on Friday set up a special investigation of the attack that killed 15 UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo last month and wounded 43 others.

The December 7 attack in the Beni territory of North Kivu province was one of the worst to target UN peacekeepers in recent history in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Dmitry Titov, a Russian national who has worked in UN peacekeeping to lead the special investigation that will also look into other attacks against peacekeepers in that area, a UN statement said.

“This special investigation will include a focus on the 7 December attack in Semuliki, in which 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed, 43 wounded and one remains missing,” it said.

The United Nations has said the ambush of the peacekeeping base was carried out by suspected ADF rebels, a shadowy group dominated by hardline Ugandan Muslims that is one of several armed groups active in the North Kivu region.

UN investigators will examine the circumstances surrounding the attacks, evaluate the response of the UN peacekeepers and make recommendations on how to prevent such violence, the UN said.

Two military officers from Tanzania will take part in the investigation that will travel to the DR Congo later this month and to countries in the region.

The attack was the bloodiest against MONUSCO, the UN force deployed in the DR Congo since 1999, and the worst against a UN force since the death of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in Somalia in June 1993.

DR Congo’s huge eastern region has long been wracked by violence, but fighting between government soldiers and militia groups, as well as inter-ethnic clashes, has increased in 2017.

North Kivu province, which borders Uganda and Rwanda, has seen a particular uptick in killings and kidnappings between rival ethnic groups.

Since October 2014, the hardline ADF — or Allied Democratic Forces — has been accused by Kinshasa and the UN of killing more than 700 people in the Beni region, where last week’s attack also took place.

Uganda’s defense ministry said in late December that it had launched air and artillery strikes against the ADF in DR Congo, killing over 100 of its fighters in a joint operation with the DR Congo’s army.

AFP

24 Die In DR Congo Floods

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila  Phill Magakoe / AFP                                                                                                                                                                                                Twenty-four people died overnight when torrential rain and mudslides swept though shanty homes in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the authorities said Thursday.

The provincial minister for health and social affairs, Dominique Weloli, said the city’s central morgue had received 11 bodies “plus 13 from Ngaliema,” a poor hillside community that was particularly hit.

“It’s a provisional toll,” the provincial interior minister, Emmanuel Akweti, told AFP.

Flooding is a major peril for residents of Kinshasa, a chaotic city with a population of around 10 million people, most of whom are extremely poor.

Many homes are flimsy and built on hillsides where lack of drainage makes them vulnerable to mudslides and flash floods.

AFP

Catholic Church Fury In DR Congo After Bloody Crackdown

Congolese Catholic faithfuls sing and dance during a demonstration to call for the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to step down, on December 31, 2017 in Kinshasa.
JOHN WESSELS / AFP

The death toll from a crackdown on New Year’s Eve demonstrations in Democratic Republic of Congo rose to 12, protestors said on Tuesday, as the country’s powerful Catholic Church condemned what it called “barbarism” and the UN and France sounded their concern.

“Eleven people died in Kinshasa and one in Kananga,” Jonas Tshombela, a spokesman for the protest organisers, told AFP.

Catholic and opposition groups on Sunday defied a ban on demonstrations demanding that President Joseph Kabila — in power since the assassination of his father in 2001 — leave office.

They were met with a deadly crackdown by authorities, who fired tear gas into churches and bullets in the air to break up gatherings.

An AFP reporter at a demonstration in the central city of Kananga saw a man shot in the chest by soldiers who opened fire on worshippers.

The protests took place on the first anniversary of a Church-brokered deal under which Kabila was scheduled to leave office in 2017 after fresh elections.

The poll has since been postponed until December 2018. Western powers have accepted the delay with reluctance, hoping it will avoid bloodshed and encourage stability in this vast and volatile central African country.

In contrast to the toll given by the protestors, the United Nations said in a statement that “at least five people” were killed, several wounded and more than 120 arrested.

Police spokesman colonel Rombaut-Pierrot Mwanamputu, said that “no deaths” had occurred in the context of the demonstrations.

On Sunday, he had said three civilians — “robbers” and “looters” — had been killed, in incidents that had occurred far from the protests. The DRC authorities also say a policeman was killed when a police station came under “attack.”

Church anger 

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Kinshasa, Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, issued an angry statement, saying that the marches had been “peaceful and non violent.”

“How can we have confidence in leaders who are incapable of protecting the population and guaranteeing peace and justice?” he said.

“It is time that truth replaces systematic lies and that mediocre people leave so that peace and justice reign in DR Congo.”

“We can only denounce, condemn and stigmatise the behaviour of our supposedly courageous men in uniform, who, sadly, and no more or less, are channelling barbarism,” he said.

The episcopate, gathering the country’s bishops, said “vile acts” had been committed.

“Freedom of worship, guaranteed in every democratic state, was assailed, churches were desecrated and members of the faithful, including altar boys and priests, were physically assaulted,” it said, demanding a “serious and objective investigation.”

The internet was restored on Tuesday three days after Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundji ordered mobile operators to cut internet and SMS services “for reasons of state security.”

In its statement, the UN reiterated its appeal to “all Congolese actors” to adhere to the December 31, 2016 agreement — “the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the DRC.”

France, too expressed its concern about the violence and the election timetable, saying the right to peaceful protest “is an essential component of democracy.”

Despite pressure from abroad, the authorities seem intent on pursuing a clampdown, flooding cities with police and troops whenever the opposition tries to make a show of strength, analysts said.

The last demonstrations on any great scale were in July 2016, when veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in Brussels the following year, returned home.

“The major deployment of police, army and military gear aims at discouraging people who are tempted to go out and demonstrate,” said Congolese analyst Jacques Wondo.

But “this repression has its limits,” he said, contending that over the long term, the cost of this wide-scale operation would strain the government’s coffers.

Vital Kamerhe, head of the third biggest opposition party in parliament, argued that the presence of priests in Sunday’s demonstrations showed that the protest movement had gone into “higher gear.”

“We (the opposition groups) have to get together and set in place a new strategy, in unity,” he told AFP.

“With each step we have to amend our mistakes. We have to turn out in droves in the face of these mercenaries,” he said, referring to the security forces.

AFP

Three Killed In DR Congo’s Kasai Opposition Stronghold

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila                                                                  Phill Magakoe / AFP

Fighting Tuesday in the DR Congo’s southern opposition stronghold of Kasai killed three men thought to belong to the anti-government Kamwina Nsapu militia, military and local sources said.

Witnesses reported hearing light and heavy weapons fire near the region’s main Kananga airport early Tuesday morning.

Around 30 youths wearing red headbands had staged an impromptu rally near the airport shouting slogans associated with Kamwina Nsapu, an airport source said.

“The army responded with heavy weapons fire and three youths fell,” a military source who requested anonymity told AFP, confirming that they belonged to the militia group spawned by the death of tribal chieftain Kamwina Nsapu in August 2016.

He was the figurehead of a rebellion against the central government in Kinshasa over moves by President Joseph Kabila to prolong his power.

More than 3,000 people have died in the region since then, with some 1.4 million displaced.

Kananga’s mayor, Edouard Ntumba Buabua, confirmed the Kananga clash, which came after protesters in the faraway capital Kinshasa, led by Catholic and opposition groups, on Sunday defied a ban on demonstrations demanding that Kabila leave office.

State forces fired tear gas into churches and bullets in the air to break up the gatherings, with as many as 11 feared dead, according to organisers.

DR Congo is one of the UN’s global humanitarian priorities for 2018, with four million internally displaced people and hundreds of thousands of children at risk in Kasai, according to warnings from aid agencies.

Two UN experts were killed in March while investigating violence in the region, where the United Nations has counted more than 80 mass graves.

AFP

UN Urges DR Congo Leader To Keep Promise To Step Down

File photo: United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP

UN chief Antonio Guterres has urged Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila to abide by an agreement to leave power, after at least eight people died in protests against his rule.

Kabila, in power since 2001, signed a deal with opposition groups a year ago agreeing to step down once his current term ends and new elections are held.

But violence has swelled in the giant, troubled African nation after the date of the new vote was pushed back to December 2018, prompting fears that Kabila may seek to extend his rule.

“The secretary-general urges all Congolese political actors to remain fully committed to the 31 December 2016 political agreement, which remains the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the DRC,” Guterres’ office said in a statement late Sunday.

Eight people were killed on Sunday and dozens arrested as Congolese security forces cracked down on protesters who defied a government ban to demonstrate in Kinshasa and other cities.

Troops fired tear gas into churches and bullets in the air to break up gatherings at Catholic masses, in one case arresting 12 altar boys at a protest in the capital.

“The secretary-general calls on the government and national security forces to exercise restraint and to uphold the rights of the Congolese people to the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly,” Guterres’ statement said.

The head of La Francophonie, the world organisation of French-speaking nations, on Monday blasted what she called “unspeakable attacks” against worshippers and other civilians.

“Participating in a protest is a fundamental right,” secretary general Michaelle Jean said in a statement, urging “free, transparent and credible elections in DRC”.

DR Congo, rich with mineral wealth but plagued by violence, has not had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Kabila succeeded his assassinated father Laurent Kabila in 2001 and refused to step down at the end of his second and final term in December 2016.

Elections had been due to take place by the end of 2017 under a church-mediated deal but were further delayed, and the poll is now scheduled for December 23, 2018.

AFP

Police Detain 12 Altar Boys In DR Congo Protests

Members of Congolese associations calling Joseph Kabila to step down as President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, clash with police officers during a demonstration on December 30, 2017 in Brussels.
NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / BELGA / AFP

Congolese police on Sunday arrested 12 Catholic altar boys who were protesting against President Joseph Kabila, AFP reporters saw.

Officers put the 12 boys, dressed in their liturgical robes, in a police vehicle after detaining them as they led a protest march to demand that Kabila leave power.

AFP

Shots Fired, Mass Dispersed With Tear Gas In DR Congo

Members of Congolese associations calling Joseph Kabila to step down as President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, take part in a demonstration on December 30, 2017 in Brussels. NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / BELGA / AFP

Security forces fired shots in the air and dispersed a mass with tear gas Sunday in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, where the Catholic church had called banned marches against President Joseph Kabila staying in power.

“While we were praying, the soldiers and the police entered the church compound and fired tear gas at the church” where the mass was being held, a worshipper in the parish of St. Michael in the central municipality of Bandalungwa told AFP. “They dispersed us,” he added.

All the Democratic Republic of Congo’s opposition and civil society groups joined in the march to demand Kabila leave office immediately and to promise he will not seek to further extend his time in power.

“People fell, first-aiders are resuscitating old ladies who have fallen, but the priest has not stopped saying mass, which continues with Christians who have not fled,” said another parishioner who identified herself as Chantal.

At the Notre-Dame of Congo Cathedral in Gombe, north Kinshasa, security forces also fired tear gas as opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi arrived, AFP journalists saw.

The soldiers then entered the compound of the main church of the capital, asking people to leave the premises. The parish priest asked worshippers to “return to their homes in peace because there is a heavy presence of soldiers and police ready to fire”.

In Kinshasa, Catholics of the “Lay Coordinating Committee” invited worshippers to walk, holding bibles, rosaries and crucifixes, after mass on Sunday morning.

They want Kabila to declare publicly that he will not run for another term as president.

Elections had been due to take place by the end of this year under a church-mediated deal aimed at avoiding more violence in a vast, mineral-rich country which has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

The delayed poll is now scheduled for December 23 next year, heightening tensions in the restive nation.

Congolese authorities cut off internet access “for reasons of state security” before the planned march, and security forces were deployed in Kinshasa, AFP journalists saw.

The army and the police deployed in large numbers overnight at churches across Kinshasa, the capital of around 10 million people.

Security forces also set up roadblocks in several parts in the city. The army and the police were stopping and searching vehicles.

AFP

DR Congo Arrests Suspected Mastermind Of UN Experts’ Murder

A village chief believed to have ordered the killing in March of two UN experts in the Democratic Republic of Congo was arrested Saturday, a Congolese military spokesman said.

Congolese authorities have from the start said the suspect, Constantin Tshidime Bulabula, was behind the slayings of Swedish-Chilean Zaida Catalan and American Michael Sharp, who were investigating reports of dozens of mass graves in the war-torn Kasai region.

Military spokesman Anthony Mualushayi said Tshidime Bulabula, chief of a town just south of where the investigators were slain, was taken into custody some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from home.

He has since been taken to Kananga, along with another presumed suspect Tresor Mputu, the spokesman added.

Catalan and Sharp reportedly left the city of Kananga on March 12 and their bodies were found 15 days later. Catalan had been decapitated.

A UN report released in June described their murder as a “premeditated setup” in which state security may have been involved.

Kasai has been in turmoil since tribal chieftain Jean-Prince Mpandi — known as the Kamwina Nsapu — was killed in August last year after rebelling against President Joseph Kabila’s regime in Kinshasa.

More than 3,000 people have died and 1.4 million have been displaced, according to the Catholic Church.

AFP

DR Congo Bans Planned Anti-Kabila March By Catholics

 

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila. Photo: Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

A planned demonstration against Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila organised by Catholics has been banned a day before it was to take place in the capital, Kinshasa’s governor said Saturday.

“The city does not have sufficient numbers of police officers to supervise this march,” Governor Andre Kimbuta said. “Therefore, I do not recognise the authorisation requested.”

About 150 Catholic churches had planned to protest in Kinshasa to call on the country to implement a compromise deal signed a year ago aimed at bringing about President Joseph Kabila’s belated departure and restore stability in the crisis-hit country.

In a letter to the governor, a secular coordinating committee said the agreement signed last New Year’s Eve is “the only viable road map” to achieve credible elections in DR Congo.

In power since 2001 when he took over from his assassinated father Laurent Kabila, Kabila refused to step down at the end of his second and final term in office in December 2016.

He is banned by the constitution from running for a third term, but under the deal with the opposition can remain in office until the next elections, which had been due to take place by the end of 2017.

But the date has since been pushed back until December 23, 2018, further heightening tensions.

A protest campaign led by the country’s opposition has been met with a police crackdown that has led to fatalities and arrests.

AFP

Kabila Residence Burned Down In DR Congo

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila               Photo: Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

A residence of President Joseph Kabila was burned down early Monday in a suspected militia attack that killed a police officer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, witnesses said.

So-called Mai-Mai armed groups were probably trying to steal goods from the building in Musienene, North Kivu province in the country’s troubled east, according to a military official.

“The residence of the head of state in Musienene has been targeted in an attack from 03:00 (01:00 GMT) and then burned by the Mai-Mai,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The attackers ransacked everything before setting the house and some vehicles on fire.”

Kabila spends most of his time in the capital, Kinshasa, but is believed to have several homes across the country, including a farm.

Musienene regularly sees protests against Kabila’s extended time in power and demonstrations over insecurity.

He has managed to cling to power despite his second and final term as president officially ending in December 2016.

Elections to replace him never took place and a deal was eventually brokered that enabled Kabila to stay in office until a vote that was due to be held in 2017. The poll has since been postponed until December 23, 2018.

“We saw the flames consume the residence of the president of the republic when we awoke,” said Pascal Mukondi, a resident of Musienene.

Another resident said they “feared retaliation” from the army.

Armed Congolese groups and foreign forces control swathes of territory in North Kivu province and fighting is relatively common.

In a separate development, nine soldiers were killed in two ambushes by a suspected rebel militia group in South Kivu province, the military said Monday.

“The army recorded a loss of nine soldiers in two ambushes in the Baraka operational zone”, an unnamed military official told AFP.

A lieutenant was killed on Sunday in the village Lweba, seven kilometres (four miles) from the Baraka district, the official added.

The other deaths came in an attack two days earlier.

“Our hospital received the bodies of eight soldiers killed by bullets on Friday,” an official at a hospital in Lulimba, a village 60 kilometres south of Baraka, told AFP.

The military official accused the Mai-Mai militia of being responsible for both attacks, adding that DR Congo’s army lost “important material”.

AFP

Four Dead In Train Accident In DR Congo

Four people were killed and five injured late Monday when a freight train derailed in central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), officials said.

The accident happened at the village of Bena-Kadiebue, 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Kananga, the capital of Central Kasai province.

“The toll is still provisional because the freight cars are lying on their side,” Francois Mutambue, a senior official with the national railway company at Kananga, told AFP on Tuesday.

“Sand deposits” on the track were to blame for the accident, he said.

Railways accidents in DRC are frequent and often deadly. Decrepit track and ageing locomotives are the most-cited causes.

READ ALSO: Three Dead, 100 Hurt In U.S. Train Derailment – Police

On November 12, 35 people, many of them clandestine passengers, were killed when a freight train carrying 13 oil tankers plunged into a ravine in Lualaba province.

Monday’s accident was the third in Central Kasai this month.

AFP