Congolese police fired live rounds on Thursday to disperse protesters demanding the departure of the United Nations peacekeeping mission from the city of Beni, its mayor and witnesses said.
Hundreds of youths have been protesting in several cities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since Monday, angry that the UN mission, known as MONUSCO, has failed to prevent a wave of civilian killings by armed groups.
So far this year around 330 people have been killed in the violence, an unresolved legacy of a civil war that officially ended in 2003, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which maps unrest in the region.
“Young people have barricaded almost all the roads to ask the UN mission to leave this region plagued by massacre,” Beni mayor Buhindo Bakwanamaha Modeste told Reuters.
“This morning the police are clearing the blocked roads, that’s why there is shooting all over the city,” he said.
A local police spokesman confirmed that they were clearing blocked roads and “re-establishing order”.
Heavy gunfire started around 7:00 am local time (05:00 GMT) and was continuing three hours later, a Reuters witness said.
At least one protester was seriously injured by gunshot, said Clovis Mutsova, a member of youth activist group LUCHA.
“We only demand two things: for MONUSCO to leave and for the Congolese government to take its responsibility so that we can have peace,” Mutsova said.
Responding to the protests, MONUSCO spokesman Mathias Gillman said on Wednesday: “We are here at the invitation of the government. It is not us who decides that we stay.”
MONUSCO took over from an earlier peacekeeping mission in 2010 and has more than 12 000 troops deployed.
Congo’s mineral-rich east has been plagued by violence for decades but killings have more than doubled in the last year, the United Nations says.