Armed Mai Mai militiamen attacked an Ebola treatment centre at the heart of an outbreak of the disease in eastern Congo, killing a policeman before being repelled by security forces, the local mayor said.
The centre in Butembo was torched by unknown assailants last week, an attack that prompted Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) to suspend activities in the area.
Aid workers face deep mistrust from locals in some areas as they work to contain the outbreak, the worst in Democratic Republic of Congo’s history, killing close to 600 people to date.
Efforts to contain the virus are further hampered by armed groups operating in Congo’s lawless east.
World Health Organisation (WHO) President Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was due to visit the Butembo centre on Saturday.
Butembo major Sylvain Kanyamanda Mbusa said Mai Mai militants were repelled.
“Because of previous attacks, a security system was in place and attackers were confronted by the police officers guarding the centre,” he told Reuters.
The facility resumed operations a week ago and was managed by the ministry of health in collaboration with the WHO and United Nations Children’s Fund.
The Mai Mai take their name from the word for “water” in a local Swahili dialect, because some fighters believe magic can turn flying bullets into water.
They comprise several armed groups originally formed to resist two invasions by Rwandan forces in the late 1990s. They have since morphed into a number of ethnic-based militia, smuggling networks and protection rackets.
A militiaman was wounded in Saturday’s attack and is in custody, Kanyamanda Mbusa said.
Last week, MSF accused the Congolese government of failing to contain the epidemic because an overly militarised response alienating patients and their families.