Clash between armed forces and protesters in Congo kills at least 26, local official says

GOMA, Congo (AP) — A clash between Congolese armed forces and members of a religious sect protesting Western organizations operating in Congo killed at least 26 people, a local official said Thursday.

The violence broke out early Wednesday in the eastern city of Goma where Wazalendo followers gathered for a protest, which had been banned by the city mayor, against a U.N. peacekeeping mission and other international organizations they accuse of exercising colonial-like power.

Protesters accused the army of firing indiscriminately with live rounds on protesters, while the Congolese army said in a statement that the protesters had stoned a policeman to death. The army also said 160 people were arrested.

Placide Nzilamba, a vice president of civil society in the region of North Kivu where the conflict unfolded, said Thursday that a preliminary investigation indicated that 26 civilians were killed and at least 50 injured in the clash. Associated Press reporters saw the nearby Ndosho hospital in Goma overwhelmed with injured patients.

Goma’s Mayor Faustin Napenda Kapend had banned the protest on Aug. 23 soon after it was announced. Congolese security and defense forces had amassed at major intersections in anticipation when violence broke out around 4 a.m. Wednesday.

The sect is headed by religious leader Ephraim Bisimwa, who opposes Western organizations operating in the area, including the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, called MONUSCO, which is in the process of being drawn down by the end of the year.

U.N. peacekeeping missions began operating in Congo in 1999. Three decades of conflict in the northeastern region has displaced over 6 million people, according to the U.N., with the crisis intensifying since 2021. Critics say the mission, which was the target of deadly protests in July 2022, has done little to help protect civilians from overlapping conflicts in eastern Congo.