Deadly attacks in DR Congo: 'The army always comes too late'
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In just one week, two deadly attacks have struck the town of Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo's restive northeast. The deadliest took place on September 22, leaving at least 18 people dead, 14 of them civilians. The attack was attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group. A few days later, on the evening of September 27, several soldiers were reportedly killed in another attack. FRANCE 24 spoke to a local from the town, who raged that not enough is being done to prevent the killings.
The September 22 attack began at around 5:30pm in the east of Beni, in North Kivu province. The town has an estimated population of over 200,000 people.
"After an attack, we go straight to the morgue to see if we know anyone who died"
Dramani Banga Gloire, 26, lives in the area where the September 22 attack took place.
When the attack started, I was in the east of the town, in the Mupanda neighbourhood. I heard gunfire, and so I immediately took cover in a cafeteria. I saw people running towards the town centre, so towards the west. It was a stampede.
I think that the FARDC (the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) only came around 6.30pm, because it was then that we heard gunfire being returned. We also saw military jeeps going past.
There were around a dozen of us in the cafeteria. It was impossible to leave. But around 8pm, it seemed to have calmed down, so we all left and I hurried to get back home, not far from there. The fighting carried on until about 11pm.
I waited until the following morning to go out and went straight to the morgue. It’s what we always do after an attack, to see if we know anyone who died. I recognised one girl who I studied with. People told me that her fiancé and her brother were also killed. She was buried the next day.
Video filmed by Dramani Banga Gloire on September 24 during the funeral of a young woman killed in the attack.
"Politicians make promises, but it hasn’t stopped the massacres from happening"
People are angry, because they have the impression that our leaders and the military are barely doing anything, even though people have been massacred in the area since 2014. We feel like the military always arrives too late. Politicians make promises, but it hasn’t stopped the massacres from happening. Saturday was the first time that the attackers came right into the centre of town. And we were surprised, because they attacked in the east of the town, which is a place where the Democratic Republic of Congo army is stationed.
Civil society has decided to put a halt to everything in the town for five days, until Friday. This even includes our work in the fight against Ebola, because you can’t talk to people who are grieving. The Ebola outbreak was declared on August 1 in North Kivu and has already killed 100 people. Right now, only the hospitals, a few supermarkets and the pharmacies are still open. On Monday, there was also a demonstration, which was suppressed with tear gas.
"We want to take part in the army and police patrols"
The young people in the town want to also take part in the patrols that the police and the army carry out in the evenings, so that we can see that they’re doing them properly. A spokesperson for the town’s young people has already asked the mayor about it.
More than 700 civilians killed in the Beni area since 2014
Since October 2014, Ugandan rebels from the ADF have killed more than 700 civilians in the Beni area, as the FRANCE 24 Observers website has regularly documented. After Saturday, another attack targeted Oïcha, the capital of the Beni locality, on September 24. According to RFI, FRANCE 24's sister radio station, one person was killed and 16 children aged between five and 15 were kidnapped.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: DR Congo's Beni becomes a ghost town after massacre
Our Observer is not the only person to question the authorities' failure to stop the massacres. Members of Beni’s civil society and some local media have voiced the same concerns. RFI quoted the local daily Le Nouvel Observateur: “How can these murderers operate freely and easily in a town that is supposed to be patrolled day and night by the Congolese army and thousands of Monusco peacekeepers? It seems that the aim is to create a climate of fear and terror in order to discourage the holding of elections in this part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Two researchers from the project "Beni Files", an online memorial that pays homage to the victims of massacres in Beni, have suggested reasons for why such attacks keep occurring: the fact that the town is surrounded by a forest which makes it easier for attackers to enter undetected; a lack of motivation among soldiers, who are trained for defensive rather than offensive maneuvers; and the questionable loyalty of some of them.
Photo taken by Papy Mwithe on September 24, during the funeral of a woman killed in the attack.
FRANCE 24 contacted Captain Mak Azukay, a spokesperson for the “Sokola 1” army operations in North Kivu.
Concerning Saturday’s attack, it is very difficult to know how many attackers there were. However, we are convinced that they were from the ADF, as we have the evidence that it was them who carried out several attacks in this area in the past. On Saturday they attacked a military outpost first and our soldiers responded. But at the same time, there was a second group who tried to advance into the town centre, where they started firing. Our soldiers then intervened there.
It’s normal that the locals are angry when things don’t work as they should. We share their sadness, as we also lost some of our men. But we’re fighting terrorists, so it’s an uneven battle. We are trying our best, but we can’t put soldiers on every street corner.
Representatives of Beni’s civil society have demanded that DR Congo's defence and interior ministers visit the town, along with the army's chief of staff, in order to assess the efficiency of the current security apparatus.
This article was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).