KINSHASA (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen killed at least 14 people, including two health workers, on Saturday in an area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where militia violence has hampered efforts to contain an Ebola outbreak, authorities said.
The latest outbreak of the deadly disease in Congo has killed 152 people, mostly in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces that have been the epicentre of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s.
The number of cases has accelerated in the past two weeks and an emergency committee of World Health Organization experts on Wednesday said that the outbreak was likely to worsen significantly unless the response was stepped up.
Eleven civilians and one soldier were killed in the city of Beni, where scores of people have contracted the virus, Alloys Mbwarara, mayor of Beni’s Rwenzori neighbourhood, told Reuters on Sunday.
In the city of Butembo, 50 km south of Beni, militiamen killed two members of the medical unit of Congo’s army, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said on Saturday.
“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, has clashed with Congolese troops in Beni in recent weeks. Mai Mai militiamen, comprising a number of armed bands that originally formed to resist Rwandan invasions in the 1990s, are also present in the region.
Fuelling tension in the cities are local mistrust and attacks by rebel groups that have disrupted treatment, burials and vaccination programmes in recent weeks.
As a result of Saturday’s killings, protests erupted across Beni on Sunday morning, said Safari Mambueni, the city’s police commander. The extent of the violence was unclear.
The health ministry said that in Butembo a group of 22 men dug up the body of an Ebola victim to make sure organs had been removed from the corpse by the health workers, in doing so entering into contact with bodily fluids of the victim. They all accepted to be vaccinated on Sunday the ministry said.
Reporting By Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Stanys Bujakera and Fiston Mahamba; Editing by Edward McAllister and David Goodman