Congo Rebel Attack in Katanga Province Leaves 35 Dead, UN Says

At least 35 people died in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday when a separatist militia attacked the capital of copper-rich Katanga province, the United Nations mission in the country said.

The Kata Katanga militia group fought with the army and police in the city of Lubumbashi before forcing their way into a UN compound and surrendering, the UN said in an e-mailed statement today. A total of 245 combatants should be transferred to the Congolese government today, it said.

“The situation in the city has been calm but tense overnight,” the statement said. Fifty-four injured rebels were sent to the hospital and no UN employees were harmed, it said.

Lubumbashi is a hub for many of Congo’s biggest mining companies, which include Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. and Glencore International Plc. The Central African nation produces more than 3 percent of the world’s copper and half its cobalt, most of which comes from Katanga.

Kata Katanga, which means “cut out Katanga” in the Swahili language, is one of several local militias, or Mai Mai groups, operating in the province. Secession movements began in Katanga within days of Congo’s independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. Since then, Katangan rebel groups supporting secession have periodically fought the central government.

More than 300,000 people have fled Mai Mai attacks in central Katanga, north of Lubumbashi, mostly in the past year, according to the UN.

While the insecurity is most extreme within an area rich in tin ore between the towns of Manono, Pweto and Mitwaba, the humanitarian effects have spread to half of Katanga’s 22 territories, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a March 8 report.

Civilians have been subject to “deliberate attacks, assassinations, burning of villages, child recruitment, rapes, and illegal taxation,” the report said. “The weak presence of Congolese police and UN peacekeepers does not bode well for a rapid improvement in terms of protection.”