The UN Security Council on Tuesday condemned attacks against civilians and a UN base in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where locals accused the blue helmets of failing to protect them against deadly militia violence.
Speaking at a closed meeting on recent anti-UN riots that left six people dead in Beni in the east of the country, the acting president of the council, British ambassador Karen Pierce, said the UN mission’s mandate “has in it the requirement to protect civilians.”
She also called for “the mitigation of risks to civilians in offensive operations” conducted by local security forces and UN troops.
Concerns have grown over unrest in the region and the consequences that the violence could have on UN efforts to counter an Ebola epidemic.
But Pierce also reiterated that “peaceful protests, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly are basic human rights.”
On Monday, rioters in Beni attacked a UN base in anger at their “inaction” after the killing of almost 80 people in the past month, deaths which were blamed on an armed group calling itself the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
The ADF is accused of having killed hundreds, and perhaps more than 1,000, people in the Beni region since October 2014.
The ADF began as an Islamist rebellion hostile to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
It fell back into eastern DRC in 1995 and has recruited people of different nationalities, but appears to have halted raids inside Uganda.
The Beni protests forced health workers to “put on hold” local efforts to combat an Ebola virus epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people since it began in August 2018.
One person was killed and 14 were injured in clashes near a gorilla sanctuary in DR Congo where there has been mounting friction between park guards and local Pygmies, sources said Friday.
The violence occurred near the Kahuzi Biega National Park, a UNESCO heritage site in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that is a haven for the world’s largest gorilla species.
“A conservation patrol which was pursuing two poachers was ambushed on Wednesday by Pygmies armed with machetes and bows and arrows,” park spokesman Hubert Mulongoy said.
“Thirteen park wardens were wounded in the clash, three of them seriously,” he said. “One of the seriously injured had his fingers severed by a machete.”
Separately, Ntavuna Cizungu, a representative of a Pygmy community that lives on the edge of the park, told AFP that a Pygmy named lwaboshi Simba was shot dead during the confrontation “and died immediately.”
Another Pygmy was injured, he said.
Mulongoy said there had been a “resurgence of tension in the past few days between indigenous people and the park.”
In April, a warden was killed in a clash, the park said, denying that this episode was associated with the death of a Pygmy the previous day.
The Pygmies are angry about being denied access to Kahuzi Biega.
The park says they illegally entered the sanctuary between August and October last year, and have been carrying out acts of “deforestation” since then.
The park wardens are chiefly recruited among former soldiers and police and include a number of Pygmies.
Kahuzi Biega, named after two extinct volcanoes, is the only place in the world where visitors can see eastern lowland gorillas in the wild, the park says on its website.
The 6,000-square-kilometre (2,300-square-mile) haven, created in 1970, is a magnet for well-heeled tourists, providing an important source of revenue for the DRC.
Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have appealed for calm after an evangelical preacher fell ill with Ebola in the eastern city of Goma, the first recorded case of the disease in the key urban hub in a nearly year-old epidemic.
Goma, a border city with a population of one million, lies next to the Rwandan town of Gisenyi and has transport links to other parts of the DRC and beyond.
The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) described the case as a “potential game-changer” and said it would reconvene a key panel to see whether the outbreak required a heightened global response.
Rwanda, meanwhile, said it would step up border monitoring and urged its citizens to avoid “unnecessary” travel to the eastern DRC.
In a statement, North Kivu governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita said the new case had been “detected at an early stage but also was isolated immediately, avoiding any further contamination.”
But, he added, “I call on the population of the city of Goma and its outskirts to keep calm… (and) cooperate with response teams, by observing hygiene and prevention measures and notifying any suspected case of Ebola,” he added.
According to the latest health ministry figures issued on Saturday, 1,655 people have died from the haemorrhagic virus since August 1 last year, when the disease broke out in North Kivu and spread to neighbouring Ituri.
Nearly 700 people have been cured, and more than 160,000 been vaccinated.
But efforts to roll back Ebola have been hampered by insecurity in a region plagued by militia groups, who have attacked treatment centres.
Local hostility to health workers trying to trace and isolate people in contact with Ebola patients is another hurdle.
Two more Ebola workers were murdered in their homes in the North Kivu town of Beni, the ministry said.
The Goma patient was described as a pastor who had been on a trip to another town, Butembo, one of the towns hardest hit by the outbreak.
There, he preached at seven churches and regularly touched worshippers, “including the sick,” the health ministry said Sunday.
His symptoms first surfaced last Tuesday, it said.
On Friday he took a bus back to Goma from Butembo, along with 18 other passengers and the driver.
He went through several health checkpoints on the road “but did not seem to show signs of the disease. However, at each checkpoint, he wrote down different family names and forenames on the passenger list, which probably indicates a will to hide his identity and state of health,” the ministry said.
When he arrived back in Goma on Sunday morning, he went to a clinic because he had started to become feverish, the ministry said.
“Given that the patient was quickly identified, as well as all the passengers on the bus from Butembo, the risk of the disease spreading in the city of Goma is low,” it said.
The pastor was swiftly taken back to Butembo, which is better prepared for handling Ebola cases than Goma, the authorities said.
The WHO said response teams had so far identified 60 people who had been in contact with the preacher, 30 of whom had now been vaccinated.
In Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he planned to reconvene the agency’s emergency advisory board to assess whether the outbreak should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern” — a move that ramps up international response.
“The identification of the case in Goma could potentially be a game-changer in this epidemic,” Tedros warned.
The WHO panel has on three previous occasions held off making a formal emergency call for the DRC outbreak, citing the limited risk of large-scale international spread.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has suspended operations in the Beni-Butembo area because of the violence there, said the Goma case “shows that the situation is still worrying and the epidemic is still not under control.”
Experts fret when a contagious disease occurs in a city, where contact, mobility and anonymity make it far harder to contain an outbreak than in the countryside.
Goma is a border city located on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, adjacent to Rwanda.
It has a port that links to Bukavu and South Kivu and an airport with flights to Kinshasa, the Ugandan capital Entebbe and Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
The driver of a motorbike taxi in Goma, who gave his name as Jean-Pierre, aged 30, said, “I hope the authorities do everything to trace these people — Goma is a huge crossroads, leading to several destinations.”
The latest epidemic is the second deadliest on record globally, after the outbreak that struck West Africa in 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people.
The first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the eastern DR Congo city of Goma has died, the governor of North Kivu said on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, I can confirm that the patient died,” Carly Nzanzu told reporters. The case — the first in a major urban hub in a nearly year-old epidemic of Ebola in the region — has sparked deep concern in neighbouring Rwanda and at the United Nations.
The International Criminal Court is on Monday to pass judgment on Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, dubbed the “Terminator” for allegedly masterminding massacres and using children in his rebel army.
Ntaganda, 45, is accused of overseeing the slaughter of civilians by his soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile, mineral-rich Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.
Prosecutors gave horrific details of victims including some who were disembowelled and had their throats slit, as part of the evidence during his three-year trial in The Hague.
The ICC says it will announce at 0800 GMT “whether it finds the accused innocent or guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”
The soft-spoken Ntaganda — known for his pencil moustache and a penchant for fine dining — told judges during his trial that he was “soldier not a criminal” and that the “Terminator” nickname did not apply to him.
Rwandan-born Ntaganda faces 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity for his role in the brutal conflict that wracked the northeastern region.
Prosecutors portrayed him as the ruthless leader of ethnic Tutsi revolts amid the wars that wracked the Democratic Republic of Congo after the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda.
More than 60,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted in the region in 1999 according to rights groups, as militias battle each other for control of scarce mineral resources.
High profile setbacks
Prosecutors said Ntaganda was central to the planning and operations for the Union of Congolese Patriots rebels and its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
The FPLC killed at least 800 people as it fought rival militias in Ituri, prosecutors said.
Formerly a Congolese army general, Ntaganda then became a founding member of the M23 rebel group, which was eventually defeated by Congolese government forces in 2013.
The first-ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, he walked into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali in 2013 and asked to be sent to the court, based in the Netherlands.
Ntaganda is one of five Congolese warlords brought before the ICC, which was set up in 2002 as an independent international body to prosecute those accused of the world’s worst crimes.
Ntaganda’s former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2012.
But it has suffered several setbacks over recent years with some of its most high-profile suspects walking free, while it has also been criticised for mainly trying African suspects so far.
In a separate hearing on Monday, judges are to determine whether there is enough evidence for a Malian jihadist to face trial for demolishing Timbuktu’s fabled shrines, as well as for rape, torture and sex slavery.
Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud was captured and transferred to the court last year.
Twenty-six people died of Ebola in a single day in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, the highest daily toll since its outbreak nearly nine months ago, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
The current outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after the epidemic that struck West Africa in 2014-2016 and killed more than 11,300 people.
The health ministry it had counted 957 deaths in the country, of which 891 were confirmed cases and 66 suspected ones.
“There were 26 deaths from confirmed cases” on Sunday, April 28, in the northeastern North Kivu province, the ministry said in a statement.
It said of the total deaths of 957, 33 were health workers who had succumbed to the disease.
The DR Congo declared a tenth outbreak of Ebola in 40 years last August in North Kivu before the virus spread into the neighbouring Ituri region.
The epicentre was first located in the rural area of Mangina, but then switched to the town of Beni.
Local organisations say the number of Ebola deaths is rising.
Adding to the logistical hitches are a string of assaults on teams fighting the disease.
A Cameroonian doctor working for the World Health Organization (WHO), Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, was shot dead on April 19.
“We will not be intimidated… we will finish our work,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a visit to Nord-Kivu on Monday.
“Your security is our priority. We will do everything to protect you,” he added.
The UN Security Council on Tuesday urged all parties to reject violence five days before the presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At least six people have been killed in violence in the run-up to the December 23 election, which will see the conflict-ridden central African country emerge from President Joseph Kabila’s 17-year rule.
Kinshasa denies any link between the bloodshed and campaigning.
The Security Council asked all sides “to continue to reject violence of any kind, exercise maximum restraint in their actions and … refrain from provocations such as violence and violent speeches and to address their differences peacefully,” a UN statement said.
The members also underscored the importance of ensuring the safety and security of candidates and voters during the campaign period.
Meanwhile, they reiterated their call on all parties to engage peacefully and constructively in the electoral process, to ensure transparent, peaceful and credible elections.
“While welcoming the progress in the technical preparation of the polls, the members of the Security Council are worried about” incidents of violence marring the final days the electoral campaign, the statement added.
As such, the council “calls on the DRC government to quickly investigate these events,” it said.
DR Congo’s long-delayed election due on December 23 to choose a successor to long-serving ruler Joseph Kabila will not take place without electronic voting machines, the poll chief said Tuesday.
“Without voting machines, there will be no elections on December 23, 2018,” election commission head Corneille Nangaa said, when asked about the United States’ opposition to electronic voting machines.
Tanzania’s President John Magufuli said Saturday he was shocked by an attack on a UN base in the restive Democratic Republic of Congo which killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers.
The soldiers were all members of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces participating in a peacekeeping operation in the conflict-torn eastern region of the country.
“I am very shocked and saddened to hear of the deaths of our young, brave soldiers and heroes who lost their lives carrying out their peace mission in our neighbour the DRC,” Magufuli said in a statement in Swahili.
He added that two other soldiers were still unaccounted for, though it was unclear if one of those was already included in the death toll.
The UN base in North Kivu province came under attack by suspected Ugandan rebels on Thursday.
Five Congolese soldiers and a further 53 personnel were also injured, the UN Security Council said.
The attack is the worst loss of life to a UN peacekeeping force since 1993 when 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in Somalia during clashes with a local warlord.
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 significantly this year.
UN chief Antonio Guterres led an outpouring of outrage over the deadly ambush, calling it a “heinous” act.