16 dead as militants clash with troops in eastern DRC

2017-06-23 10:00
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Goma - Clashes between militants and government troops on Thursday left 16 dead in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the army said.

The fighting erupted in the eastern suburbs of Beni, a city in the troubled North-Kivu province, with residents hearing gunshots and heavy weapons fire.

The province has been plagued by regular flare-ups of ethnic bloodshed, which over the past year has seen a cycle of attacks and reprisal raids between militias.

"The provisional toll is 13 Mai-Mai militants killed, plus six wounded and three dead on the side of the FARDC (the Congolese army)," lieutenant Jules Tshikudi, an army spokesman in the region, told AFP.

"Calm has returned to the city," he added.

The UN mission in DRC known as MONUSCO, which says it has deployed peacekeepers to the region, gave a death toll of "nine Mai-Mai killed", spokesman captain Adil Asserhir told AFP, while confirming that the militants have been driven from Beni.

A local civil society leader Gilbert Kambale however warned that "the Mai-Mai are unpredictable" and for city residents it could be "a nightmarish night after the trauma of the attacks."

The army said the confrontation started with an early-morning attack on two of its positions east of the city, claiming the gunmen were from the Mai-Mai militia.

School hit

The clashes then moved to the centre of the city, which is home to some 800 000 people, and a shell slammed into a nearby school where teenagers were sitting state exams, wounding a teacher, an examiner and an intelligence officer, the school's headmaster said.

John Mangaiko, who says he's a spokesman for the militants, blamed the army for starting the violence by bombing the group's positions at daybreak. He also blamed the military for damaging the school.

The fighters "pursued the FARDC, but then retreated near the end of the day," he told AFP of the clashes.

He also said the group did not define itself as part of the Mai-Mai, which is a "self-defence" militia comprising members of the Nande, Hunde and Kobo communities as well as rivals from the Nyaturu, who are ethnic Hutus.

Last weekend, troops clashed with suspected Mai-Mai gunmen just south of Beni in a confrontation that killed a soldier and 12 militants.

UN peacekeepers were also ambushed by presumed Mai-Mai gunmen, killing five of them.

Prison escapees 

The army said some of those involved in both the weekend clashes and Thursday's fighting had escaped during a mass jail break on June 11 when more than 930 inmates fled Beni's Kangwayi prison.

Speaking to AFP, the city's police chief characterised Thursday's fighting as a new attempt to free prisoners.

"The attackers tried to free prisoners being held at police headquarters, at the military prosecutor's office and at Beni women's prison," Safari Kazingufu said, indicating that they had been repelled from all three sites.

For more than 20 years, eastern DRC has been rocked by conflict waged by both domestic and foreign-armed groups and fuelled by the struggle for control of lucrative mineral resources as well as by ethnic and property disputes.

Read more on:    monusco  |  drc  |  central africa

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