Four civilians electrocuted during Congo anti-U.N. protests

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO - Protesters ransack UN peacekeepers' offices in eastern DR Congo

BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Four people protesting against a United Nations peacekeeping mission were electrocuted on Wednesday in the Congolese city of Uvira when troops fired shots which hit an electric cable that fell on them, the mission and a local official said.

At least 12 civilians were killed on Tuesday in protests against the mission in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, known as MONUSCO, which protesters accuse of failing to protect them from militia violence. One U.N. soldier and two U.N. police were also killed.

The protests had mostly fizzled out on Wednesday in the cities of Goma and Butembo but had spread to Uvira, in South Kivu province, where crowds threw rocks at a MONUSCO compound.

"Four people were unfortunately electrocuted to death by a cable [near a MONUSCO base]," the mission tweeted on Wednesday.

South Kivu governor Theo Ngwabidje Kasi had confirmed the incident earlier in the day, adding that troops had fired at the cables.

"There was an isolated demonstration in Uvira," he told Reuters.

"I have asked for investigations to know if the bullet was fired by MONUSCO or by our [security] forces," he said, adding that preliminary information suggested it had come from within the MONUSCO base.

Calm had been restored by mid-afternoon, he added.

Deputy U.N. Congo envoy Khassim Diagne on Wednesday said a "normal fragility" had returned with pockets of insecurity.

"We do not have any evidence that MONUSCO troops were firing at civilians, he told journalists in New York via video, adding that the U.N. would work with Congolese authorities to investigate civilian deaths.

A Reuters reporter saw U.N. peacekeepers shoot dead two protesters in Goma on Tuesday.

"The DRC guarantees the inviolability of UN premises and has launched an investigation to identify those that incited and participated in violence," Congo government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said in a statement on Wednesday.

The U.N. Security Council in a statement said that attacks against MONUSCO could "constitute war crimes under international law."

The U.N. mission - which includes civilians, police and military personnel - has around 12,400 troops in the country and costs more than $1 billion per year. It has been in the process of gradually withdrawing from the area for several years.

The U.N. children's agency alleged on Wednesday that many children had been manipulated into joining the protests and were exposed to violence.

"UNICEF condemns the instrumentalization of children for political purposes and calls on authorities, members of civil society and parents to keep children away from protests in order to protect them," said Grant Leaity, UNICEF representative in the DRC, in a statement.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix is due to arrive in Congo's capital Kinshasa on Friday and will also visit Goma, Diagne said.

MONUSCO took over from an earlier U.N. operation in Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2010 with the aim of protecting civilians and supporting the government in its stabilization efforts as clashes between Congo's army and the M23 rebel group have displaced thousands.

A faction of the youth wing of President Felix Tshisekedi's UDPS ruling party had earlier called for protests, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeepers over what it described as their ineffectiveness.

(Reporting by Crispin Kyala and Stanis Bujakera; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Sofia Christensen; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Aurora Ellis)

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