Congo blames rebels for U.N. peacekeeper death as insecurity spurs protests


GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb 6 – Congo’s government on Monday blamed M23 rebels for an attack on a helicopter that killed a United Nations peacekeeper, as hundreds in the eastern city of Goma demonstrated over spiralling insecurity in the region.

Militia violence has racked Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast mineral-rich east for two decades despite local and regional military interventions and U.N. peacekeeping efforts.

A helicopter operated by the peacekeeping force MONUSCO came under fire on Sunday after taking off from the city of Beni. A South African peacekeeper was killed and another one wounded.

Neither South Africa nor MONUSCO said who might be responsible, nor what kind of weapon was used to target the helicopter or what caused the casualties.

The Kinshasa government blamed the M23 in a statement on Monday. The group, which launched a major offensive last year, denied the accusation.

With around 18,200 personnel, MONUSCO has been deployed in eastern Congo since taking over from a previous U.N. operation in 2010. Its mandate includes supporting the Congolese government’s effort to stabilise the region.

But it has been the target of several sometimes violent protests against insecurity that have broken out in and around Goma over the past year.

Demonstrators accuse MONUSCO and a regional force set up in April last year of not doing enough to protect civilians and end bloodshed.

Hundreds took to the streets again on Monday, denouncing M23 advances which threaten Goma, despite a deal brokered in November under which the rebels agreed to a truce and to withdraw from recently seized territory.

In a separate incident on Monday, armed men suspected to be from a local Mai-mai militia killed a ranger and wounded two others in Virunga National Park, the park said in a statement.

Virunga, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas around 300 kilometres north of Goma, is caught in the middle of militias fighting for control over land and natural resources.

More than 200 rangers have been killed in past attacks that were frequently blamed on various rebel groups.

The park warned that such attacks, which waned in 2022, had become more frequent again in recent months.

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