Congo forces shoot dead at least 34 Bu­run­dian refugees


BUKAVU, DR Congo: Troops shot dead 34 Bu­run­dian refugees in clashes in Ka­many­ola in east­ern Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, lo­cal of­fi­cials in the east­ern prov­ince of South Kivu said on Saturday.

A Bu­run­dian refugee said that more than 30 had been killed and at least 100 wounded in the vi­o­lence on Friday.

In­te­rior Min­istry of­fi­cial Jo­sue Boji said troops had tried to dis­perse the refugees by “fir­ing in the air but were over­whelmed” when the group re­sponded by throw­ing stones.

Boji said the clashes be­gan af­ter a group of refugees over­ran a jail run by the coun­try’s do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence agency to de­mand the re­lease of four Bu­run­di­ans who had been ar­rested for ex­pul­sion on Wed­nes­day night.

“There are 34 dead and 124 wounded among the Bu­run­dian refugees,” he said, re­vis­ing up­wards an ear­lier toll of 18 dead plus one DR Congo sol­dier.

Boji had warned ear­lier that the toll could rise fur­ther, as the refugees took the bod­ies of other vic­tims to the Pak­istani-run UN camp at Ka­many­ola.

A spokes­woman for MONUSCO, the UN’s peace­keep­ing mis­sion in the coun­try, gave a toll, which was also pro­vi­sional, of 18 dead and 50 in­jured.

A Bu­run­dian refugee told AFP: “I saw peo­ple fall­ing down, men, women and chil­dren who were com­pletely un­armed.

“So far, we have counted 31 dead and at least 105 in­jured, 15 of them se­ri­ously,” the refugee said.

Bu­rundi’s For­eign Min­is­ter AlainAime Nyamitwe on Twit­ter de­scribed the in­ci­dent as a “shoot­ing” and said “ex­pla­na­tions are needed.”

Tens of thou­sands of Bu­run­di­ans have fled to the east­ern DR Congo to es­cape a wave of vi­o­lence that un­furled in 2015 af­ter Bu­run­dian Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza sought a fiercely con­tested third term in of­fice.

Over­all, the vi­o­lence in Bu­rundi has claimed be­tween 500 and 2,000 lives, ac­cord­ing to dif­fer­ing tolls pro­vided by the UN or NGOs and more than 400,000 Bu­run­di­ans have fled abroad.

Around 36,000 are in DR Congo, mainly in the over­crowded camp of Lusenda, in the east, or sev­eral tran­sit camps.

Most of the refugees in­volved in Friday’s in­ci­dent are fol­low­ers of a fe­male prophet called Ze­biya, who has at­tested to see­ing vi­sions of the Vir­gin Mary in north­ern Bu­rundi, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony to AFP from some of them.

They fear re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion if they are sent back home, they said.

On Septem­ber 4, the UN re­leased a re­port ac­cus­ing Bu­rundi’s govern­ment of crimes against hu­man­ity, in­clud­ing ex­e­cu­tions and tor­ture, and urged the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) to open a case “as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Bu­rundi’s govern­ment firmly re­jected the al­le­ga­tions, ac­cus­ing the UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors of be­ing “mer­ce­nar­ies” in a Western plot to “en­slave African states.”

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