An angry crowd set fire to a United Nations building as well as a local mayor’s office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday, in the wake of a deadly attack by an armed group.
Violent protests erupted in the northeastern city of Beni after at least 8 people were killed and others were kidnapped on Sunday night during a raid by the Allied Democratic Forces, a militant group of Ugandan origin. Residents were apparently furious that government troops and U.N. peacekeepers had failed to protect them or thwart the attack, according to separate statements from the Congolese National Police and the United Nations.
First, the protesters stormed the town hall of Beni and and torched the mayor’s office. Then the crowd marched to the nearby headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known by the French acronym MONUSCO, and set the compound ablaze.
The U.N. base was left “badly damaged” and staff “have been redeployed to other areas for their safety” as the protests continue, the United Nations said in a press release Monday.
The Congolese National Police said its forces “are working to restore public order.”
Some 16,000 peacekeepers, known as “blue helmets,” serve with MONUSCO. The mission’s headquarters in Beni is a key base for the joint efforts of the United Nations and the Congolese government to tackle a yearlong Ebola outbreak in the region that has claimed the lives of over 2,000 people, making it the second-deadliest Ebola epidemic on record anywhere. Beni was an early epicenter and has been hard hit by the ongoing outbreak.
The World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations, announced on Tuesday that its Ebola responders are “on lockdown” amid gunfire, riots and civil strife, preventing them from accessing areas affected by the deadly virus.
“Teams are arranging contact follow-up by phone and remotely guiding community health workers in places we can’t reach,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu wrote on Twitter. “This is a tragedy because it will only add to the suffering of already overburdened communities.”
Francois Grignon, an acting deputy special representative at MONUSCO, said U.N. peacekeepers were not asked by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to participate in the fight against the assailants after Sunday’s attack.
“We cannot impose ourselves in an operational situation for offensive operations,” Grignon said in a statement posted on Twitter by MONUSCO on Monday. “We came in support to evacuate the wounded, we came in support to share information when possible.”
In the hours after the violent demonstrations, MONUSCO chief Leila Zerrougui attended a National Security Council meeting chaired by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.
“She stressed that she understood the people’s anger and frustration of the population after further deadly attacks by the ADF,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement Monday, using the acronym for the Allied Democratic Forces. “The mission will work closely with the authorities to jointly find solutions for the people of Beni.”
MONUSCO has called on local leaders in Beni to support a return to calm, “which is necessary both to fight the ADF and to continue the response to Ebola,” Dujarric said.