Heavy gunfire erupts as DR Congo’s anti-UN protests continue

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Gunfire rang out in the DR Congo town of Beni on Monday as protesters demanding the United Nations’ withdrawal from the city again marched towards the UN headquarters.

Security forces blocked hundreds of demonstrators attempting to get close to the UN compound housed inside the airport near Beni, one of two UN bases in the area.

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“The army is saying the protests are no longer peaceful. They will not accept protesters to gather anywhere near the UN compound,” Al Jazeera’s Alain Uaykani said after attending a press conference by the military on Monday.

They are saying the enemy are the rebels. The rebels are the ones killing civilians. The UN is not the enemy, that is what the army is saying. The army is expected to deploy more troops on the ground from tomorrow,” Uaykani said.

Anger erupted last week over the perceived failure of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians from deadly rebel attacks with several mass demonstrations targeting UN facilities in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

DR Congo: Rebel attacks and anti-UN protests

On Friday, at least 19 people were killed by attackers believed to be from the feared Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group operating in the dense forests bordering Uganda. Many of the victims were hacked to death or beheaded, according to local rights groups.

Eight Beni residents were killed late on November 24 by suspected ADF fighters, prompting angry protesters to take to the streets.

Last Monday, four people were killed in clashes with security forces after angry demonstrators torched the mayor’s office and attacked several UN buildings in Beni.

‘Restricted mandate’

Christoph Vogel, a researcher at the University of Ghent, Brussels and a former UN expert on DRC, said the situation was extremely concerning with the deadly attacks that began in 2014 and the ongoing Ebola outbreak.

“There is a mismatch between the UN mandate and the reality on the ground,” Vogel told Al Jazeera.

“We also need to see that DR Congo is a huge country and we still have less than 20,000 peacekeepers – most of them with a very restricted mandate. That explains in part the failure to better protect civilians.”

Demonstrators accuse both the DRC’s security forces and MONUSCO – one of the world’s biggest peacekeeping missions that has operated in DR Congo for the past two decades – of not doing enough to stop rebel attacks on civilians.

“While the army is doing its best to neutralise the ADF rebellion, the rebels are preying on defenceless civilians by way of revenge,” said Donat Kibwana, administrator of the territory of Beni, on Sunday.

Many of the victims have been hacked to death or beheaded, according to local rights and civil society groups.

The DRC’s volatile east is home to many armed groups, including ADF, vying for control of the mineral-rich region.

Nearly a month ago, the DRC’s armed forces announced they had launched an offensive to wipe out armed groups in eastern DRC.

Since then, dozens of civilians in the region have been killed, according to officials. During previous military operations against the ADF, its fighters retaliated by attacking civilians, local activists say.

Violence in the region is hampering efforts to halt the spread of the Ebola virus, which has killed 2,200 people since August 2018.

International organisations warned on Friday of a potential resurgence of the virus after deadly militia attacks on health centres forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the epidemic’s last strongholds.