36 Bu­rundi refugees killed in clashes with Congo se­cu­rity forces

The Mercury News - - Other Views - By Eloge Willy Kaneza and Saleh Mwanami­longo

BUJUMBURA, BU­RUNDI >> At least 36 Bu­run­dian refugees have been killed in clashes with Con­golese se­cu­rity forces who al­legedly fired in­dis­crim­i­nately at protesters, the U.N. en­voy to Congo said Satur­day.

Ma­man Sidikou said he was “deeply shocked” at the violence. An­other 117 peo­ple were wounded and one Con­golese of­fi­cer was killed, he said in a state­ment. Thir­ty­nine gravely wounded Bu­run­dian refugees were evac­u­ated by he­li­copter to the city of Bukavu, the U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Congo said.

Fri­day’s clashes erupted in Ka­many­ola in Congo’s South Kivu prov­ince when Bu­run­dian refugees and asy­lum-seek­ers protested the ex­pul­sion of four of their coun­try­men from Congo, Sidikou said, cit­ing “cred­i­ble re­ports” re­ceived by the peace­keep­ing mis­sion. The death of the Con­golese army of­fi­cer led to “the es­ca­la­tion of violence.”

The U.N. en­voy called for a swift in­ves­ti­ga­tion and urged Congo’s se­cu­rity forces to use force as a last re­sort.

Congo’s gov­ern­ment said it is opening an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to es­tab­lish the facts and true iden­tity of the “sup­posed refugees,” spokesman Lam­bert Mende said.

“We do not yet un­der­stand how the peo­ple who are be­ing called refugees were also shoot­ing at Con­golese sol­diers,” Mende said. “No per­son who is a ben­e­fi­ciary of this (refugee) sta­tus is sup­posed to have an as­sault ri­fle.”

Roughly 44,000 refugees from Bu­rundi are shel­ter­ing in Congo. Many fled po­lit­i­cal violence at home in 2015, when Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza suc­cess­fully pur­sued a dis­puted third term amid deadly protests.

Of the peo­ple killed in Fri­day’s clashes, 15 were women, the com­man­der of the Pak­istani bat­tal­ion of the U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion, Waquara Yunusi, told The Associated Press.

The Con­golese gov­ern­ment, the U.N refugee agency and the U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Congo “have de­ployed teams on site to shed light on ev­ery­thing that hap­pened,” said the co­or­di­na­tor of the U.N. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Group in Congo, Florence Mar­chal.

Bu­rundi’s for­eign min­is­ter, Alain Aime Nyamitwe, on Twit­ter asked Congo and U.N. of­fi­cials for an ex­pla­na­tion of the shoot­ings.

Res­i­dents said the killings oc­curred af­ter some Bu­run­dian refugees went to the bureau of in­tel­li­gence in Ka­many­ola to in­quire about four de­tained refugees. Con­golese sol­diers re­sponded with gun­fire when some refugees hurled stones, said refugee Aline Nduwaru­gira.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear why the four refugees had been de­tained.

“We do not yet un­der­stand how the peo­ple who are be­ing called refugees were also shoot­ing at Con­golese sol­diers. No per­son who is a ben­e­fi­ciary of this (refugee) sta­tus is sup­posed to have an as­sault ri­fle.”

— Lam­bert Mende, Congo’s gov­ern­ment spokesman

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