At least 11 people were killed by an armed group in eastern DR Congo, sources said Thursday, bringing the troubled region’s death toll to at least 70 since the start of the week, according to an AFP tally.
Eleven miners in the gold-rich territory of Djugu, in the northeastern province of Ituri, were killed early Wednesday by a local group called the FPIC, Mungwalu district mayor Jean-Pierre Pikilisende told AFP.
The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a respected NGO that monitors violence in eastern DR Congo, said 12 people had been executed.
Pikilisende said the militia had come to take control over the area, whose gold is mined by poor artisanal diggers.
Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province have been placed under a “state of siege” — a government attempts to stem escalating violence by replacing civilian officials with senior army or police officers.
Fifty-three people were killed overnight Sunday in two Ituri villages, in the region’s worst one-day massacre in recent history, sources there told an AFP correspondent.
The journalist said 21 died in Tshabi and another 32 in Boga, where a camp for displaced people was targeted.
Eighty-four shacks in the camp were torched, as were eight stores in nearby Boga, the reporter saw. Fifteen homes were burned in Tshabi.
A number of villagers, including at least four women, were kidnapped.
The identity of the attackers remains unclear, as the massacres took place in an area notorious for ethnic tension and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group that has been linked to the so-called Islamic State.
The ADF has the bloodiest reputation of the estimated 122 armed groups that roam eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), many of them a legacy of wars more than a quarter-century ago.
Five other people were killed early Tuesday, and several others, including children, are missing.
On Wednesday, an old man was beheaded in the village of Bulire, near Boga, and two people went missing, a local administrative official said.
As of Friday, the KST estimated that at least 1,228 civilians have been killed in Beni territory of North Kivu alone since November 2019, when DRC’s armed forces launched a crackdown, splintering the ADF into smaller groups.
At least 50 people were killed overnight in two new attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s deeply troubled east, monitors said Monday.
A local official blamed the notorious ADF militia, which has been linked to the Islamic State group, but others said the attacks may have been ethnic in origin.
Citing a provisional toll, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) said 28 people had been killed in Boga and 22 in Tchabi, villages lying about 10 kilometres (six miles) apart in an area known for Allied Democratic Forces attacks and community friction.
The respected monitor said this was the highest death toll it had recorded in a single day since it was founded in 2017. It had earlier given a tally for the attacks of 39 dead.
One community leader said children and the elderly were among the victims.
The DRC army gave a slightly higher provisional toll of 53 after a meeting of security forces in Bunia, the capital of Ituri province where the attacks took place. Local MP Gracien Iracan spoke of 60 dead.
“Seven trucks arrived to remove the victims — it’s a dramatic situation,” Iracan told AFP.
“They’re still finding bodies, so the toll is likely to grow,” he added, while “many wounded people are still hiding in the bush, everyone fled there”.
A UN source told AFP that South African blue helmets from the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission’s small base in Tchabi had exchanged fire with the attackers when they tried to intervene.
A local civil society leader attributed the attacks to the ADF, a historically Ugandan Islamist group blamed for a string of massacres in the past 18 months.
The two villages lie on the border between North Kivu and Ituri provinces in an area where the ADF is believed to be active.
Lawmaker Iracan said that “a very large number of attackers showed up. The assault was well targeted, they killed two local leaders. We can’t rule out that they were settling scores,” he added.
The KST said the wife of a traditional leader in Benyali-Tchabi had been killed in the attack on Tchabi.
Two local officials reached in Boga by AFP said the assailants had attacked a camp for displaced people.
They said 36 bodies had been found so far in Boga, a figure that has yet to be independently confirmed.
Those same officials also cautioned against immediately blaming the ADF, given the ethnic conflicts in the region.
Suspicions that the violence was ethnically motivated stem from the fact that the displaced people’s camp in Boga mostly hosted displaced people from the Nyali group — but a nearby site housing Banyabwisha people was spared.
“We think it was the same group” behind the attacks on both villages, the head of the Nyali community in Tchabi told AFP by phone.
“They attacked around 1:00 am. There are children and the very old among the dead… at the moment we’re preparing to bury them,” he added.
The ADF is the deadliest of an estimated 122 armed militias that roam the mineral-rich east of the DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that ran from 1996 to 2003.
As of Friday, the KST estimated that at least 1,228 civilians have been killed in the Beni territory of North Kivu alone since November 2019, when DRC forces launched a crackdown that splintered the ADF into smaller groups.
Three other attacks since last Tuesday, blamed on the ADF, have claimed 39 lives.
On March 11, the United States said the ADF was linked to IS, which is also known by the acronym ISIS. The ADF was called ISIS-DRC, or Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen.
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi on May 6 proclaimed a 30-day “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri in a bid to curb bloodshed by the ADF.
Under the move, military and police officers have taken over from civilian authorities.
At least 39 people were killed in two new attacks in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where hundreds have died in massacres since the start of the year, monitors said on Monday.
“At least 20 civilians were killed overnight in the village of Boga and at least 19 in the village of Tchabi,” in Irumu territory in Ituri province, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) group said, as a local civil society leader blamed a notorious militia, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Thousands have fled a volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the flaming lava from Mount Nyiragongo appeared to have come to a halt on the outskirts of Goma city early Sunday.
According to an AFP correspondent at the scene, the molten rock, which the eruption had sent close to Goma airport on the shores of Lake Kivu, still appeared unstable, but had come to a standstill in the suburbs of the eastern city.
And around a dozen earth tremors were felt in the early hours.
“People are beginning to return to their homes. The situation seems to have calmed down for the moment,” one resident said.
“But people are still scared. The authorities still haven’t made any official announcement so far this morning,” he added.
Thousands had fled during the night and many families slept on pavements surrounded by their belongings under a night sky turned red by fire and fumes.
“There is a smell of sulphur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain,” one resident, Carine Mbala, told AFP.
Officials said the lava had reached Goma city airport although residents said it had stopped at the edge of the facility.
Goma appeared relatively calm as dawn broke, but people said they are still wary.
– ‘Not sure it’s over’ –
“People are wondering whether the volcano has stopped, or whether it will continue, whether the lava will reappear,” one resident said.
A few cars were on seen on the streets, but no police or military presence was visible.
“We’re not convinced that the eruption is over in just a day. We’re waiting,” said one man.
On Saturday, Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya had said that the government had activated an evacuation plan and was “discussing the urgent measures to take at present.”
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi had said he would “interrupt his stay in Europe to return home this Sunday to supervise the coordination of aid”.
By early Sunday, between 5,000 and 7,000 people had arrived in neighbouring Rwanda, according to the country’s national broadcaster.
The Rwanda Broadcast Agency tweeted photos of those arriving in Rubavu district, but said early Sunday that the evacuees had already begun heading home.
“At the moment, the Congolese who had evacuated into Rwanda because of the Nyiragongo volcanic eruption are returning to their homeland. It appears that the eruption has stopped,” it tweeted.
The first departures from Goma city came even before the official confirmation that Mount Nyiragongo had erupted at around 7:00 pm Saturday, spewing red fumes into the night sky.
– ‘I’m scared again’ –
Power was already cut in large parts of the city when hundreds of residents began leaving their homes.
Some headed out of the southern end of the city towards the nearby border post with Rwanda, while others headed west towards Sake, in the neighbouring Congolese region of Masisi.
Resident Richard Bahati said he was incredibly worried about the eruption: “I lived through this volcano problem in 2002.
“The volcano had devastated all our homes and all our possessions. That’s why I’m scared again this time.”
Electricity was cut off in a large part of the city, with thousands of people — encumbered with mattresses, food and parcels — heading towards the Rwandan border.
“There are a lot of people on the road, a lot of cars, it’s an escape,” one man with his family in his car told AFP.
“It is moving at a snail’s pace, on three or four lanes,” he said, adding: “There are children, women, old people who are on foot and the rain is coming. It’s complicated.”
– Last flights –
Goma is home to a large contingent of peacekeepers and staff of MONUSCO, the UN mission in the country, as well as the base of many NGOs and international organisations.
Several planes, belonging to Monusco and private companies, took off in the evening, according to an airport source, with a local adding they had also seen the unusual nighttime activity.
In a May 10 report, the Goma Vulcanology Observatory warned that seismic activity around the volcano had increased and warranted careful monitoring.
The last time Nyiragongo erupted was January 17, 2002, killing more than a hundred people and covering almost all of the eastern part of Goma with lava, including half of the airport’s landing strip.
During that eruption, the victims were mostly sick or elderly abandoned to their fate in the northern districts of the city with some looting also taking place.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, where the deadly Ebola virus first emerged in 1976, has begun a countdown to the official end of its latest outbreak, this time in the east of the country, health authorities said Tuesday.
The last patient to be treated for Ebola tested negative for a second time on Sunday, triggering the 42-day countdown from Monday, the World Health Organization’s DR Congo office said.
The period represents twice the average maximum duration of Ebola’s incubation.
Since the virus re-emerged on February 7 in the DRC’s North Kivu province, 12 cases have been recorded, half of them fatal.
The virus, which jumps to humans from infected animals, is transmitted between people through bodily fluids. The main symptoms are fevers, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea.
According to the WHO’s last status report last Thursday, 1,606 people had been vaccinated against Ebola in the DRC, a vast former Belgian colony in central Africa, today one of the world’s poorest countries.
The vaccine, developed by the US lab Merck Sharpe and Dohme, was first used during the 10th Ebola outbreak, which lasted from August 2018 to June 2020 in North and South Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province, as well as during the 11th outbreak, in the western province of Equateur between July and November 2020.
With more than 2,200 recorded deaths, the 10th epidemic is considered the worst to hit the DR Congo since 1976, lasting from August 2018 to June 2020.
The virus also struck Guinea, in West Africa, in mid-February, with 18 cases and nine deaths, according to the WHO.
Nearly 4,000 people have been vaccinated there.
The worst-ever Ebola outbreak began in December 2013 in southern Guinea before spreading to two neighbouring west African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The epidemic killed more than 11,300 people out of nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to WHO estimates.
Sixteen people, including a doctor, have been sentenced to death in absentia for the murder of a Cameroonian Ebola expert, lawyers said on Tuesday.
Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, an epidemiologist employed by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), was gunned down in April 2019 at a work meeting at a hospital in Butembo, in North Kivu province.
He was one of many foreign medical workers who had been brought in to help fight an epidemic of Ebola in eastern DR Congo that claimed more than 2,200 lives before it ended in June 2020 after 22 months.
A military court in North Kivu on Monday handed down the death sentence to 16 fugitives, including Dr Jean-Paul Mundama, who were charged with terrorism and criminal association, attorneys familiar with the case said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has not carried out executions since a moratorium was declared in 2003.
Lawyer Jean-Marie Vianney Muhindo Kanzira told AFP that Mouzoko was allegedly the victim of jealousy by local doctors.
Local doctors earned an Ebola bonus of $20 per day, whereas foreign doctors in senior positions could pick up more than $20,000 per month, according to an investigation last December by a news website, Les Jours.
After meeting with four other local doctors who were angry about the different status, Mundama allegedly gave $700 to a former militiaman, with the promise of $20,000 more, if he and others “got the foreigners to flee,” Les Jours said.
Eight other defendants were present at the weeklong trial.
Of these, two militiamen were jailed for five years, and a second doctor, Gilbert Kasereka Kasisivahwa, was handed three years for criminal association.
The international response to the 2018-20 Ebola epidemic, the 10th in DRC’s history, has been subject to much scrutiny.
Tens of millions of dollars poured into a remote region in a poor country, creating work opportunities for many, such as in logistics and tracing.
But it also stoked rivalries and jealousies between staff from the region and those from the DRC capital Kinshasa, and also between DRC hires and foreign hires.
Four people have died from Ebola during a new outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where people are resisting measures to contain the disease, officials said Sunday.
Since the epidemic’s resurgence this month, “we have already registered six Ebola cases. We have lost four infected people,” Doctor Eugene Syalita, the provincial health minister in North Kivu province in the DRC’s northeast, told AFP.
Syalita said one person died Friday and another on Saturday, while the two others died at the beginning of the month.
Two patients are receiving care at an Ebola treatment centre in Katwa, he added.
Syalita complained that the region’s residents were not taking the new outbreak seriously enough.
“Some families categorically refuse to have their homes disinfected or to hold dignified and safe funerals,” the doctor said.
“People have not yet understood that Ebola has reappeared. Everything is not yet clear for them.”
As in past outbreaks, the population of the region refuses to believe in the existence of the Ebola disease and rejects measures aimed at checking the virus’ spread, such as avoiding touching sick people or not washing the dead who are infected.
The tenth epidemic, which was declared on August 1 2018, was only eradicated on June 25 last year because of unrest caused by armed groups and the population’s resistance to anti-Ebola measures.
With more than 2,200 deaths recorded, it is considered the most serious in the history of Ebola in the DRC since its appearance in 1976.
The Ebola virus is transmitted to people through infected animals. Human transmission is through bodily fluids with the main symptoms being fevers, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea.
Ebola has also resurfaced in Guinea, where it has already killed five people.
Several million children are at risk in DR Congo regions that have been destabilised by armed groups, the UN’s children’s agency said on Friday.
“The lives and futures of more than three million displaced children are at risk in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while the world is looking the other way,” UNICEF said in a statement.
According to UN figures, 5.2 million people in the DRC have been forced from their homes because of conflict — “more than in any country except Syria,” UNICEF said.
Of these, half have been displaced in the past 12 months, it said.
“Displaced families live in crowded settlements that lack safe water, health care and other basic services, it said.
“Others are accommodated by impoverished local communities. In the most violence-afflicted provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, more than eight million people are acutely food insecure.”
Children are at risk from sexual abuse and recruitment as child soldiers by armed groups, UNICEF said. Documented violations of this kind rose 16 per cent in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous year.
A vast country the size of continental western Europe, the DRC is grappling with numerous conflicts, especially in its remote east.
Scores of militias roam the four eastern provinces, many of them a legacy of wars in the 1990s that sucked in countries around central-southern Africa and claimed millions of lives.
The most notorious of these groups, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), has been blamed for hundreds of deaths since the DRC’s army opened an offensive against it in October 2019.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said on Tuesday that more than 2,000 civilians were killed in North and South Kivu and Ituri last year.
UNICEF appealed for a greater effort to meet aid targets to prevent disease and malnourishment among children in the DRC.
It has so far received only 11 per cent of the $384.4 million it is seeking for humanitarian operations in the DRC in 2021.