Unidentified gunmen killed at least 14 people, including two health workers, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where militia violence hampers efforts to contain an Ebola outbreak, authorities said.
The latest outbreak of the deadly disease in Congo killed 152 people, mostly in North Kivu and Ituri provinces the epicentre of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s.
The number of cases accelerated in the past two weeks and an emergency committee of World Health Organisation experts said the outbreak was likely to worsen significantly unless response was stepped up.
Eleven civilians and a soldier were killed in Beni, where scores of people have contracted the virus, Alloys Mbwarara, mayor of Beni’s Rwenzori neighbourhood, told Reuters.
In Butembo, south of Beni, militiamen killed two members of the medical unit of Congo’s army, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said.
“It’s a sad day for all response teams who sometimes put their life in danger while serving the country. Health workers should not be a target for armed groups,” he said.
It is unclear who carried out the attacks. The Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan Islamist group active in eastern Congo, clashed with Congolese troops in Beni in recent weeks. Mai Mai militiamen, comprising armed groups originally formed to resist Rwandan invasions in the 1990s, are also present in the region.
Fuelling tension in cities are local mistrust and attacks by rebel groups that disrupt treatment, burials and vaccination programmes.
As a result of Saturday’s killings, protests erupted across Beni on Sunday, said Safari Mambueni, the city’s police commander. The extent of the violence was unclear.
The health ministry said in Butembo a group of 22 men dug up the body of an Ebola victim to make sure organs were removed from the corpse by health workers, in doing so entering into contact with bodily fluids of the victim. They all accepted to be vaccinated the ministry said.