Police crack down on anti-force protests in eastern DR Congo

A protest against an East African force deployed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was violently dispersed by police in Goma on Wednesday, AFP correspondents saw.

About 100 protesters gathered near a roundabout to march against the East African Community (EAC) force, which they said was ineffective.

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Protesters march during a demonstration against the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on January 18, 2023.

Photo credit: Guerchom Ndebo | AFP

Several thousand soldiers from Kenya and Burundi have recently been deployed to support the Congolese army and UN peacekeeping forces fighting armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. South Sudan’s contingent of 750 soldiers is expected to arrive soon.

“The population is tired of seeing this useless EAC force turned into an observer mission watching them massacre us,” said Espoir Mwinuka, an activist with Lucha, a group of young activists, who helped organize the march.

“On the ground, they do nothing but serve as a shield for the enemy, so this force has no reason to be here,” said Josue Wallay, another Lucha activist.

On arrival in the center of Goma, the march was stopped by police who fired tear gas.

Journalists were threatened by police and an officer threw a tear gas grenade at the group of reporters, hitting an AFP correspondent in the head.

Journalists seek cover during a demonstration against the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on January 18, 2023.

Photo credit: Guerchom Ndebo | AFP 80 civilians killed

A journalist was injured as he fled. Two others were arrested along with six protesters and released after three hours in custody.

A historically Tutsi rebel group called M23 took up arms again in North Kivu province in late 2021, and noted progress last year that led to the EAC’s decision to deploy the force.

A military plane carrying troops sent by Kenya to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to prevent ongoing clashes between the Congolese army and M23 rebels arrives in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo on November 16, 2022.

Photo credit: Augustin Wamenya Anadolu Agency via AFP

The DRC’s government accuses its smaller neighbor Rwanda of helping M23, something Kigali denies.

Since the end of October and despite declarations of a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops, M23 has continued to clash with the Congolese army and other armed groups.

DRC Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula on Wednesday accused the M23 “and the Rwandan government that supports them” of “once again failing to uphold their commitments”.

DR Congo is determined to “secure its territorial integrity,” Lutundula said in a statement, warning that “all means” would be deployed to that end.

Scores of armed groups roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars in the late 20th century that claimed millions of lives.

In neighboring Ituri province, activists on Wednesday launched a three-day protest aimed at shutting down the provincial capital Bunia over failures to address civilian deaths by armed groups.

“More than 80 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year,” said Dieudonne Lossa, a spokesman for civil society groups.

Both Ituri and North Kivu have been under a so-called state of siege since May 2021 – an emergency measure under which senior civilian officials have been replaced by army or police officers to speed up operations against armed groups.

Despite the initiative, massacres of civilians have continued unabated.

Read: DR Congo conflict: Uhuru Kenyatta’s possible mission

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