An unidentified militia group attacked Lubumbashi, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo’s copper-rich Katanga province, seizing a United Nations compound and causing an unknown number of casualties.
About 100 fighters overpowered national police and took the UN compound around midday, Carlos Araujo, a spokesman for the UN mission in Congo, said by phone from Kinshasa, the national capital. Congolese soldiers and members of the president’s Republican Guard have surrounded the compound and are negotiating to disarm the fighters, he said.
“We have some staff inside the compound but they’re not harmed,” Araujo said. Some of the militia members are wounded, he said.
Lubumbashi is a hub for many of Congo’s biggest mining companies. The Central African nation produces more than 3 percent of the world’s copper and half its cobalt, most of which comes from Katanga.
UN-backed broadcaster Radio Okapi said as many as 450 militia and family members from the group Kata Katanga entered the city in the morning and began shooting.
Neither Araujo nor Congolese government spokesmen could confirm the identity of the group. A number of the militia have been arrested, Media Minister Lambert Mende said by phone from Kinshasa.
“We will find out who they are in the coming hours,” he said.
Before taking the UN compound, the militia battled in the streets with the national army, Araujo said.
“People were running everywhere, then there was the sound of gunfire from certain areas of the city,” Francois Kashinda, spokesman for Katangan Governor Moise Katumbi, said by phone.
Several local militia groups, often called Mai Mai militia, have caused more than more than 300,000 people to flee their homes in central Katanga, north of Lubumbashi, according to the UN. Some of the groups including Kata Katanga believe Katanga should secede from Congo. Kata Katanga means “cut out Katanga” in the Swahili language that’s spoken there.
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