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Thursday, 20th June 2019
3:12:39am

Central Africa

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At least 161 people have been killed in a northeastern province of Democratic Republic of Congo in the past week, local officials said on Monday, in an apparent resurgence of ethnic clashes between farming and herding communities.

A series of attacks in Ituri province has mostly targeted Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers over grazing rights and political representation, although the exact identity of the assailants remains murky.

Open conflict between Hema and Lendu from 1999-2007 resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths in one of the bloodiest chapters of a civil war in eastern Congo that left millions dead from conflict, hunger and disease.

Tit-for-tat attacks between the two groups in late 2017 and early 2018 killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands more to flee their homes, but a tenuous calm had taken hold until this month.

Pascal Kakoraki Baguma, a national lawmaker from Ituri, said the latest violence was sparked by the killing last Monday of four Lendu businesspeople.

“Members of the Lendu community believed that these assassinations were the work of the Hema,” Kakoraki said. “This is why they launched several attacks on Hema villages.”

“Sources affirm that 161 bodies have been found so far. But the death toll goes beyond the bodies recovered, as there were other massacres of civilians and police officers,” he said.

Jean Bosco Lalo, president of civil society organisations in Ituri, said 200 bodies had been found since last week in predominantly Hema villages, including the 161 mentioned by Kakoraki. Lalo said the toll would rise once his teams gained access to other villages where killings had been reported.

Ituri Governor Jean Bamanisa said provincial authorities were still working to establish the exact death toll and declined to say who was responsible.

He said the assailants’ tactics were to “empty out the villages, burn them and pursue those who had fled to the surrounding areas with bladed weapons”. 

Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in January, is trying to restore stability to the country’s eastern borderlands, a tinderbox of conflict among armed groups over ethnicity, natural resources and political power.

Several rebel leaders have surrendered or been captured during his first months in office, but armed violence has persisted, particularly in North Kivu province, south of Ituri, which is the epicentre of a 10-month Ebola outbreak.

-Reuters  

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a deadly overnight attack in an area of eastern Congo hit by an Ebola epidemic, although its account of the violence differed from local reports.

The deputy mayor of Beni in the eastern Democratic of Congo said 13 civilians were killed late on Monday in an attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) - a group thought to be linked to Islamic State.

“The victims were killed by bullets and others by bladed weapons,” Mayor Modeste Bakwanamaha told Reuters.

In a statement on the messaging website Telegram, Islamic State said it was behind the attack. It said it had targeted the Congolese army in Beni, killing or wounding 25 people.

The bloodshed added to widespread insecurity that has hampered efforts to contain the second-worst Ebola epidemic on record. The number of cases hit 2,000 this week as the rate of infection accelerated. 

Bakwanamaha said the latest violence was likely a response to a crackdown by the Congolese army last week that killed 26 ADF members after they attacked an army position in Ngite.

The ADF has never claimed allegiance to Islamic State, but Islamic State said last Thursday its ‘Central Africa Province’ affiliate had inflicted “dozens of casualties” on Congolese forces, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online jihadist activity.

-Reuters

Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi returned home from three years in exile on Monday, one of a series of indicted politicians cleared under the administration of new President Felix Tshisekedi.

Thousands of supporters came out to welcome Katumbi at the airpoirt in Lubumbashi, the main city in his political heartland in Democratic Republic of Congo’s southern copper-mining Katanga region.

“I’m happy to be back home, the truth always triumphs,” he said.

Tshisekedi has pardoned 700 prisoners including three political opponents of his prececessor Joseph Kabila since coming to power in January.

His supporters have said the moves point to a new era political openness after years of suppression of opposition figures.

Katumbi fled the country in May 2016 in the face of accusations he had hired mercenaries as part of a plot against Kabila’s government.

He was then sentenced in absentia to three years in prison for real estate fraud - both charges his supporters said were aimed at preventing him from running in an election to replace Kabila.

But Katumbi’s fraud conviction was overturned by an appeals court last month. And prosecutors said they had also dropped their investigations into the mercenary accusations “given that the president of the republic has made easing political tensions his priority”.

Tshisekedi was declared winner in long-delayed presidential elections in Dec. 30, 2018, defeating a candidate officially backed by Kabila whose own term limit was up. 

Several other opposition factions said the result was rigged in a secret deal between Kabila’s and Tshisekedi’s camps, a charge they both denied.

-Reuters

Ten people have been kidnapped by an armed group in the Beni region of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local sources said on Thursday.

The assailants raided Chianichani village, where they looted and burned a local health centre and robbed houses, sources said.

"Ten people were swept away by these attackers," Donat Kibwana, administrative director of Beni, told AFP.

Beni has been one of the main cities affected by DRC tenth outbreak of Ebola in 40 year - the virus has killed more than 1,000 people since August.

According to the SITE Intelligence group, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in Chianchiani and another village, Kumbwa in Kamango, saying they clashed with the Congolese military.

AFP could not immediately verify the claim.

The Congolese army has not reported an attack on its bases in Kamango.

Last month, the Islamic State group for the first time claimed to be behind an attack on a Congolese army position in North Kivu province.

Another group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) - forced out of Uganda in the mid 1990s -- are regularly accused by DRC authorities of attacking army positions in North Kivu.

The Islamist-rooted ADF have notably been blamed for a 2014 massacre of hundreds of civilians in the North Kivu region of Beni.

-AFP

Attempts to end the second worst Ebola outbreak on record are being hampered by “political games” and distrust of outsiders in two towns in Democratic Republic of Congo, a senior World Health Organization official said on Monday.

The epidemic has moved through northeastern Congo, killing 1,117 people since mid-2018. A rapid international response with an effective vaccine has managed to stop the spread in a string of towns, including Beni, Kyondo, Komanda, Tchomia, Mabalako, Mandima and Kayna, WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said.

But in two towns, Butembo and Katwa, there has been persistent infection and reinfection, Ryan he told an audience at Geneva’s Graduate Institute.

“They see (DRC capital) Kinshasa as being as far away as New York. Anyone from more than 5 miles down the road, or maybe sometimes 500 metres, is an outsider,” he said. 

“They are very distrusting of outside influence. And certainly getting this community on board has been a challenge, and missteps have been made along the way in doing that.”

Ryan added that there were “myriad” Mai-Mai militia groups, with at least 21 around Butembo and Katwa alone, some leaning towards criminal activity and many being manipulated by political causes.

“There is a lot of political gaming going on in this part of the world – government and opposition and others - and this needs to stop,” Ryan said.

Community engagement strategy involved healthworkers visiting a village in advance of vaccination, but by the time they went back the next morning or afternoon, youth groups or others were often there to intercept them.

“It’s not the family who are rejecting, it’s other elements in the community who have been organised to respond to the ‘outsiders’, be they government or NGOs or others, and that has caused a lot of flashpoints with the teams.”

Ryan said the problem was totally different from attacks on health facilities by armed insurgents, who had used “heavy arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and other stuff”, which he said had horrified local inhabitants.

To try to improve access for healthworkers, there had been discussions with Congo’s president and opposition leaders, as well as the bishop of Butembo, imams and tribal chiefs who wield political influence. But a truly “all society approach” was needed, “or this situation will get even worse”, Ryan said.

-Reuters

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