GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Two people were killed in clashes with police in eastern Congo on Monday after protesters in the town of Beni set fire to the mayor’s office and several U.N. buildings in anger at a new round of violence by suspected Islamist rebels.
Rebels believed to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed eight people in an overnight raid, police said, stoking residents’ fury at the perceived inaction of both the government and a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The police said protesters torched the mayor’s office. A tweet by the police force showed flames shooting from the window and thick black smoke billowing above.
The protesters then marched to the offices of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO), said Teddy Kataliko, a civil society leader in Beni.
“Several offices at the MONUSCO headquarters were set on fire and looted,” Kataliko said. “Residents are demanding the withdrawal of MONUSCO from Beni because of the inaction of U.N. forces.”
Two people were killed by gunfire in the protests, Beni police commander Safari Kazingufu told Reuters.
The United Nations said one civilian and one policeman died, and that some of its offices were vandalized.
“We do understand the anger and frustration of the population but ask for understanding that attacking U.N. or local facilities... actually weakens the Congolese army’s operations against the ADF,” said Matthias Gillman, a U.N. spokesman.
The U.N. mission has not been participating in the army’s offensive against the ADF launched late last month, he added, other than providing intelligence and medical assistance.
ADF fighters have killed more than 70 civilians in reprisal attacks since those operations began, according to Kivu Security Tracker, a research group.
“It is scandalous that civilians are dying day in, day out while the local police and nearby U.N. peacekeepers stay put in their camps,” said Seif Magango from rights group Amnesty International.
The dense jungle terrain makes it difficult to protect every remote village, especially when the ADF tend to attack silently at night, the United Nations said.
“We can’t put a peacekeeper behind every Congolese,” Gillman said.
The violence by the ADF and a patchwork of militias and criminal bands near Congo’s borders with Uganda and Rwanda has hampered efforts to eradicate a more than year-long Ebola outbreak, which is the second deadliest of all time.
The ADF, an Islamist militant group founded in neighboring Uganda, has operated in eastern Congo for two decades. Some ADF attacks have been claimed by Islamic State, although the extent of any relationship between the two groups is not clear.
Reporting by Fiston Mahamba, Stanis Bujakera and Anna Pujol-Mazzini; Additional reporting by Hereward Holland; Writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini and Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross, Angus MacSwan, Philippa Fletcher and Peter Graff