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Africa

Militants kill 15, abduct a dozen children in Ebola-hit DR Congo

  • Attack by Allied Democratic Forces on army positions, neighbourhoods leaves 15 dead in DR Congo
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2018, 9:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2018, 9:54pm

Congolese rebels killed 15 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack at the center of the latest deadly Ebola outbreak, Democratic Republic of Congo’s military said Sunday, as the violence threatened to again force the suspension of crucial virus containment efforts.

The Allied Democratic Forces rebels attacked Congolese army positions and several neighbourhoods of Beni on Saturday and into Sunday, Captain Mak Hazukay Mongha said. The UN peacekeeping mission said its troops exchanged fire with rebels on Saturday in the Mayangose area of Beni during an attack on civilians.

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Angry over the killings, Beni residents on Sunday morning carried four of the bodies to the town hall, where police dispersed them with tear gas. Vehicles of aid organisations and the peacekeeping mission were stoned, the UN-backed Radio Okapi reported.

The ADF rebels have killed hundreds of civilians in recent years and are just one of several rebel groups active in Congo’s far northeast.

Late last month, Ebola outbreak containment efforts were suspended for days in Beni after a deadly attack, complicating work to find and track suspected contacts of infected people. Since then, many of the new confirmed Ebola cases have been reported in Beni as the rate of new cases overall has more than doubled, alarming aid groups.

The latest attack comes after two medical agents with the Congolese army were shot dead – the first time health workers have been killed by rebels in this Ebola outbreak.

It is a “dark day” for everyone fighting the deadly virus, Congo’s health minister said late Saturday while announcing the deaths.

Mai Mai rebels surged from the forest and opened fire on the unarmed agents with the army’s rapid intervention medical unit at an entrance to Butembo city, the health ministry said.

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The daytime attack appeared premeditated, with civilians present left unharmed, the statement said. The medical agents had been placed in “dangerous zones” to assist national border health officials.

Confirmed Ebola cases have now reached 200, including 117 deaths.

Health workers in this outbreak, declared on August 1, have described hearing gunshots daily, operating under the armed escort of UN peacekeepers or Congolese security forces and having to end work by sundown to lower the risk of attack.

Congo’s health ministry has reported “numerous aggressions” against health workers, and early this month two Red Cross volunteers were severely injured in a confrontation with wary community members in a region traumatised by decades of fighting and facing an Ebola outbreak for the first time.

“Health agents are not a target for armed groups,” Health Minister Oly Ilunga said. “Our agents will continue to go into the field each day to fulfil the mission entrusted to them. They are true heroes and we will continue to take all necessary measures so that they can do their job safely.”

On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation said it was “deeply concerned” by the outbreak but that it does not yet warrant being declared a global emergency. An outbreak must be “an extraordinary event” that might cross borders, requiring a coordinated response. Confirmed cases have been found near the heavily travelled border with Uganda.

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Police recovered the bodies of 11 civilians killed in the town of Matete, north of Beni, said Beni police chief Colonel Safari Kazingufu, adding that the missing children were aged from five to 10 years old.

The attack, thought to have been carried out by members of the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), had targeted Beni, said Captain Mak Hazukay, the regional army spokesman.

“We repulsed the attack but unfortunately, there were deaths among the civilians and soldiers,” he said, without specifying how many soldiers had been killed.