Thousands Protest Militia Attacks in DR Congo’s Ground Zero for Ebola

Saturday, August 10, 2019
By Paul Martin

9 Aug 2019

Locals in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), estimate that 5,000 people participated in a protest Thursday against mass killings by local militias seeking to cement control over natural resources in attacks significantly hindering international aid groups’ efforts to combat the Ebola virus.

Beni is a city in North Kivu province in the heart of the area affected by the ongoing Ebola outbreak in DRC. North Kivu and the province to its north, Ituri, have suffered decades of attacks from armed groups fighting for territory. Many in these groups refuse to believe the Ebola virus is real and fear that health workers are deliberately killing people taken in for Ebola treatment, resulting in deadly attacks on medical professionals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern last month.

“Young people in Beni city decided to demonstrate. They threw stones on the avenues, burned tires in some neighbourhoods and called on the population to stop all work,” Kizito Bin Hangi, identified as a “civil society official,” told Radio France Internationale. “Really, it’s not right, there are killings every day.”

The Congolese outlet Actualité similarly reported protesters organizing roadblocks in protest and burning tires in response to killings by armed militias — particularly the killing of at least seven in Mbau, a town near the outskirts of Beni. Police reportedly reopened the roads quickly, but the turmoil nonetheless forced shops to close, presumably for fear of having their goods damaged or stolen in the chaos.

Actualité reports that locals had organized a smaller protest the day before, and another group marched to a United Nations mission office to demand an intervention to restore peace.

The number of deaths in the Mbau attack varies depending on the news source, given Beni’s remote location. While most publications estimate seven people were killed, the Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, citing local sources, put that number at nine people, reporting they were beheaded and another five were kidnapped and taken into the dense forests nearby.

Xinhua reports that the Mbau attack followed another four attacks that left at least 20 dead.

Most reports blame the attacks on the “Allied Democratic Forces” (ADF), a particularly violent militia that often targets civilians in its quest for control of local resources. Police have not identified any individuals responsible for the killings.

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