Congo Assailants Kill 14 as President Visits Violence-Torn East

Suspected rebel fighters killed 14 people including a pregnant woman and a newborn in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as President Joseph Kabila vowed a military response to similar attacks in the region this month.

The machete-wielding assailants carried out the assault near Eringeti in mineral-rich North Kivu province yesterday, Maurizio Giuliano, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in neighboring Orientale province, said by phone today.

Suspected Allied Democratic Forces fighters killed at least 84 people in North Kivu and Orientale between Oct. 2 and Oct. 17 and most of the victims were women and children, according to the UN and Congolese authorities. People fleeing the site of recent attacks in the region have also reported rapes and mutilations, Giuliano said.

Congo, Africa’s biggest copper producer, has struggled for nearly two decades to defeat dozens of local and foreign militias in the east of the country. The region’s remote hills and forests have made it difficult for the army to hunt armed groups that take refuge there and often prey on residents. Eastern Congo is rich in tin ore, gold and coltan, which is used in smart phones and laptops.

Uganda’s government and Congolese officials have accused the ADF of having links to al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group that has carried out an insurgency against Somalia’s government for the past seven years. Lieutenant-General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, commander of the UN force in Congo, said there is no evidence of such links.

Kabila Visit

Kabila visited eastern Congo this week and was in the North Kivu town of Beni a day after an attack was carried out by five machete-wielding assailants in a nearby village, government spokesman Lambert Mende said by phone. In Beni, where some of the previous attacks took place, Kabila spoke with local civil society groups and reassured them that the government is on their side, according to Mende.

Kabila also defended the presence of the UN peacekeeping mission, known as Monusco, in the region, Mende said.

Protests against Monusco following the violence in Beni in mid-October resulted in the death of one Congolese protester. As many as 2,000 people took part.

Today, protesters took to the streets in Bunia and Mahagi, in Orientale province, to demand security and an investigation into the killing of a student by unknown assailants, UN-backed Radio Okapi reported. Business ground to a halt as shops, banks and other businesses shut down, it said.

‘Killing, Terrorizing’

UN officials said that a top priority in eastern Congo is maintaining the population’s support, while also combating the perpetrators of the attacks.

“The issue here is the killing, the terrorizing, the attacks by the ADF -– not Monusco,” Charles Bambara, director of Monusco’s Public Information Division, said by phone. The protester in Beni may have been hit by a Congolese soldier firing into the air to protect the Monusco convoy, Bambara said, adding that there is no evidence that any of the protesters were armed with guns or that Monusco personnel fired a shot.

At least 20,000 people have been displaced in the region because of the recent attacks, Giuliano of OCHA said. Humanitarian workers are trying to assess the immediate needs of the displaced.

“We are highly concerned about their safety in an area that is fragile, where attacks against civilians are routine, and where conflict is a definite possibility,” Giuliano said.

Civilian Targets

The ADF will probably continue to attack civilians rather than target business interests, said security analysts including Christoph Wille at Control Risks in London. In addition to its metal deposits, North Kivu is also the site of oil-exploration projects.

“Several oil blocks open for exploration in North Kivu will remain high-risk environments in the medium-term,” Wille said in an e-mail. “ADF attacks are unlikely to target business personnel and assets.”

Monusco has increased its joint patrols with the Congolese army in the region, dos Santos Cruz said.

“The ADF has lost its momentum and most of its structure,” he said. “These crimes -- killing innocent people, children and women and civilians, is the consequence of a criminal mind. They are barbarians and criminals.”

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