Local youth organizations have accused soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo of opening fire in a church, reportedly killing 48, in the Central African country’s North Kivu province.
Soldiers allegedly targeted people inside a church in the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, on Wednesday, the Turkish state newspaper Anadolu Agency reported, citing the Collective of Youth Solidarity Organizations in Congo-Kinshasa DRC, or COJESKI-RDC.
Lucas Pecos, COJESKI-RDC’s director, was quoted as saying that the victims were part of an organization called Wazalendo (Patriots). They had gathered to protest against the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO, and the East African Community’s presence in the country.
MONUSCO is a United Nations peacekeeping mission aimed at stabilizing the situation in the DRC. It was established by the UN Security Council in 2010, succeeding an earlier mission known as MONUC, or United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One of the primary responsibilities of MONUSCO is to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, particularly in areas where state authority is weak or non-existent.
Pecos said 13 died at church. The rest died en route to or at hospitals. Local and international media have reported that as many as 75 were injured.
“They were not found in the act of attacking MONUSCO, so there was no need to kill them,” Pecos added.
COJESKI-RDC is demanding accountability from the army and the government.
MONUSCO has been criticized for failing to maintain peace in the region.
Last year, over 10 people, including four peacekeepers, were killed in anti-UN protests in eastern Congo.
In a separate incident in the northeastern Ituri province, at least 14 people were killed in church attacks Monday, Reuters said. Local officials attributed the killings to the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) armed group.
Djugu territory administrator Ruphin Mapela and civil society leader Dieudonne Lossa said nine civilians, four assailants and a soldier were among the dead. The militants targeted churches near Lake Albert in the Bahema-Nord chiefdom.
CODECO claims to defend Lendu farmers in conflict with Hema herders. Their actions have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in Ituri, where roughly 3 million people need aid, according to a U.N. humanitarian agency.
The armed group has been implicated in various acts of violence, including attacks on villages, massacres and other forms of armed conflict.
Ituri army spokesman Jules Ngongo Tshikudi urged calm. “We call on the population to remain calm as the armed forces pursue these criminals to put them out of action,” he was quoted as saying in a statement.
The churches attacked in Ituri were identified as Mesa, Cepac and Aumopro, located near Lake Albert.
The conflict is primarily centered in the province of Ituri. The Lendu and Hema communities have historically had different economic practices; the Lendu are primarily agriculturalists, while the Hema are mainly pastoralists.