Political turmoil triggers militia uprising in Congo

Africa | Government forces kill more than 100 people in clashes with militia group
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/15/17, 11:32 am

Clashes between soldiers and a militia group in the Democratic Republic of Congo have killed at least 101 people, the United Nations human rights group said Tuesday. Analysts warn fighting likely will continue as frustration over the country’s ongoing political turmoil triggers additional militia uprisings.

The five-day skirmish between the military and the Kamuina Nsapu militia began Feb. 9 in the country’s Kasai-Central province. Congolese officials accused the militia of destroying property and other acts of violence after security forces killed its leader in August. The group’s leader, also called Kamuina Nsapu, had vowed to uproot all security forces from the Kasai region because of their abuse of power.

UN human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell called the killings “deeply concerning.”  Throssell said the military killed 39 women when soldiers randomly opened fire on some of the militia fighters, who were armed with machetes and spears. 

She called on Congolese authorities to carry out a full investigation into the clashes and called on the troops to “exercise restraint and to use force only when necessary and proportionate to the threat, to minimize damage and injury, and to respect and preserve human lives.”

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende criticized the UN’s report as a “hasty and improper declaration” and called for an investigation. Alex Kande, the governor of Kasai-Central province, also dismissed the death toll claims.

“There were deaths among civilians and militia fighters, but it was far fewer than 100,” Kande said.

Stephanie Wolters, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said the Congolese army has “a history of deliberate violation of human rights.” In January, the UN reported an increase in human rights violations, with security forces as the main perpetrators. The Congolese government had similarly described those findings as “exaggerated.”

Wolters said Congo’s current political climate has contributed to increased attacks by the Kamuina Nsapu militia and rising tensions in the Kasai region. President Joseph Kabila continues to cling to power and has delayed presidential elections, even though his term expired in December. Many Kasai residents do not support Kabila and are frustrated by the postponed elections, Wolters said. The presidential turmoil could lead to heightened conflicts both with the militia and the country’s armed forces, she warned. 

“When you have a national government that increasingly lacks legitimacy, of course it’s going to be a concern and a driver of further conflict,” Wolters said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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