BENI, Congo (AP) – UN mission and Congolese government officials said on Sunday that trailing UN peacekeepers opened fire on a border post between Congo and Uganda, killing at least two people and wounding at least 15.
Tensions between the population in peaceful eastern Congo and UN peacekeepers escalated dramatically over the past week, killing nearly 20 people in protests calling for the force to leave the area.
Bintou Keita, head of the UN mission in Congo and special representative of the UN secretary-general, said he was deeply shocked by the shooting in the town of Kasindi, bordering Uganda on Beni territory in Congo’s North Kivu province. He said it was not clear why the peacekeepers opened fire.
“This serious incident resulted in loss of life and serious injury,” said Keita. “Facing this unspeakable and irresponsible behavior, the perpetrators of the armed attack were identified and arrested, pending the conclusion of the investigation launched in cooperation with the Congolese authorities.”
He said he was contacted to start legal proceedings with the soldiers’ homeland. Nationalities were not given.
The Congolese government strongly condemned the shooting, tentatively confirming two dead and 15 injured.
Joel Kithausa, vice-president of Kasindi Civil Society, condemned what he described as a “despicable act by UN soldiers” using real ammunition.
“It was around 11:00 am local time when the UN mission peacekeepers arrived from Uganda in the Congo and headed for Beni city,” he said. “Customs officers were already instructed not to let them enter Congo… but they (they) broke the barrier and broke in, shooting everywhere.”
Protesters accuse peacekeepers of failing to protect civilians amid escalating violence. According to the UN, the mission has more than 16,000 uniformed personnel in the Congo.
The mineral-rich east of the Congo is home to numerous rebel groups. Security deteriorated there, despite a year of emergency operations by the Congo and Ugandan armies. Civilians in the east have also faced violence from jihadist rebels affiliated with the Islamic State group. Clashes between Congolese soldiers and M23 rebels also escalated, forcing nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes.
Serges Mulimani, a Kasindi resident, wanted UN peacekeepers to show more respect for the residents.
“How is it that a peacekeeper shoots at a civilian without a weapon?” said Mulimani. We are Congolese, they should respect us and respect our view of their service in the region,” he said.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN deputy secretary general for peacekeeping operations, met with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa on Saturday to discuss co-operation between the UN mission and the Congolese government. Three UN personnel were among the 15 other people killed in Butembo earlier in the week.
“It was an opportunity to talk about how we can learn from what happened and how we can work together,” Lacroix said.
In a statement on Sunday, the Congo government offered condolences and support to the bereaved families and urged North Kivu province to remain calm so that “an event like this never happens again.”
Reported from Kamale, Congo, Kinshasa.