Congolese migrants and officials said dozens of people were killed in neighbouring Angola in a crackdown on artisanal diamond mining, an accusation Angolan security forces denied.
Angola, the world’s fifth largest diamond producer, launched an operation in recent weeks to clear tens of thousands of people involved in digging for precious stones in the country’s north-east to attract more private investment.
Many are from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),and thousands of people poured over the border into the Kasai region, border guards told Reuters.
In interviews, more than 20 Congolese migrants who crossed the border between October 4 and 12 described violence, looting and forced displacement by Angolan security forces as well as a local tribe – the Tshokwe.
The worst violence, they said, occurred in Lucapa, about 100 km south of the border in the heart of diamond-rich Lunda Norte province.
Angolan security forces stormed the town, according to witnesses, killing dozens, burning down homes, looting property and forcing people to leave. Some were legally in Angola, the witnesses added.
“There was a lot of violence in Lucapa. The military was shooting at us while Tshowke were killing people with machetes. They killed more than a dozen people,” said Victor Tshambapoko (28) who worked as a diamond digger in the region.
Reuters could not independently verify the accusations.
Angolan Police Commissioner Antonio Bernardo, spokesman for the operation, denied rights abuses by security forces and said the only fatality he knew of was in a traffic accident.
“We have no record of any burning of homes, much less reprisals and or assaults on anyone,” he told Reuters.
“Angola and its government appeals to the common sense of the international community to realise there is no underlying xenophobia, only the legitimate normalising of the socio-economic life of the country and national security.”
Amadhou Kabaseke Taty, Kasai’s provincial director of the Congolese border agency (DGM) told Reuters he believed there were “serious violations of human rights” during the Angolan operation.
“I am worried about the situation,” he said. “Congolese people have been expelled in degrading conditions. They have been molested, beaten and killed, especially in Lucapa by the Angolan military police.”
FEARS OVER STABILITY
Angolan President Joao Lourenco wants to boost investments in his country and wean it off a heavy reliance on oil exports.
Reforming the diamond industry is part of that drive, and “Operation Transparency” in Lunda Norte aims to reduce diamond smuggling and raise more revenue for state coffers.
Several Congolese migrants who entered from Angola in recent days said authorities gave them an October 15 deadline to leave. Border guard officials said the Angolan operation began on October 1.
According to an internal DGM document seen by Reuters, 200,000 people crossed into Kasai region from Angola in the first 12 days of October.
Border officials believe the true figure is higher because people cross through the bush rather than checkpoints.
The need to resettle so many people threatens to further destabilise Kasai, a region which saw widespread violence involving armed groups and government forces in 2016 and 2017.
Security sources in DRC and Angola are concerned about heightened tensions in the area in the run-up to Congolese elections in December.
A Reuters reporter in the Congolese border town Kamako saw thousands of people making their way on foot and in trucks along the dirt road to Tshikapa, provincial capital of Kasai.
Exhausted men and women rested by roadside, washed in a river or picked fruit from giant mango trees to feed themselves on a journey that lasts up to a week.
Many carried household belongings, including plastic chairs, mattresses, animals and even ovens. Some said they had diamonds.