Congo residents burn town hall after latest rebel attack

Smoke from the United Nations compound rises in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Angry residents of this eastern Congo city burned the town hall and stormed the UN peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, after Allied Democratic Forces rebels killed eight people and kidnapped nine overnight. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

BENI, Congo (AP) — Angry residents of the eastern Congo city of Beni burned the town hall and stormed the United Nations peacekeeping mission Monday after rebels killed eight people and kidnapped nine overnight in their latest assault.

Gunfire could be heard as police and peacekeepers tried to disperse crowds who attacked the U.N. base and burned U.N. vehicles. Residents have protested outside the U.N. for several days over repeated attacks by Allied Democratic Forces rebels, and two civilians and two policemen have died in the unrest.

Civil society leader Kizito Bin Hangi said they warned the Congolese army when they saw suspicious activity in the center of town Sunday but soldiers came too late.

One protester, Kasereka Fundi, suggested the U.N. mission known as MONUSCO should leave if it won’t protect the population.

“What did we do to deserve that, do we not have the same rights as other citizens of Congo?” Fundi said. “We are killed while MONUSCO is here to protect us. Let them go home. We do not need tourists in our country.”

The U.N. peacekeeping mission said it could not carry out operations unilaterally in a region where Congo’s military is already active, and that it cannot participate in Congolese military operations without being invited.

Hours later, Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi after an emergency meeting decided to allow joint operations between Congolese and U.N. forces in Beni and install a headquarters for Congolese troops there, his office said.

The U.N. secretary-general’s special representative, Leila Zerrougui, said she understood people’s anger and frustration after further deadly attacks by the ADF. She said the mission will work closely with the authorities to jointly find solutions for the people of Beni.

The ADF rebels, who formed in Uganda in 1995, have been blamed for killing more than 1,500 people in the area in the past five years. Numerous rebel groups are active in mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Beni was an early epicenter in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo and the World Health Organization has said rebel attacks hamper the crucial work of containing the virus that has killed more than 2,100 people since August 2018.

The World Vision aid group said its operations in Beni had halted and it could be days before health workers’ Ebola prevention efforts could resume.

“This outbreak of violence could not have come at a worse time. We were just about getting on top of the Ebola epidemic,” its regional director Helen Barclay-Hollands said in a statement. Cases of the virus have dropped in recent weeks.

The Congo-based Center for Studies of Peace and Defense of Human Rights in a statement Monday urged calm. It condemned the massacres by ADF rebels as well as the attacks on U.N. facilities.

“While sharing the anger felt by the youth of Beni and the revolt that these terrorist acts provoke, (the center) asks all residents of Beni to remain calm, show restraint and a sense of responsibility so as not to fall into the trap of the enemy,” it said.

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