Congolese police detained scores of protesters and fired live rounds on Thursday to disperse crowds demanding the departure of the United Nations peacekeeping mission from the city of Beni, local authorities and witnesses said.
Hundreds of young people have been protesting in several cities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since Monday, angry that the U.N. 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 U.N. mission to leave this region plagued by massacre,” Beni Mayor Modeste Buhindo Bakwanamaha told Reuters.
“This morning the police are clearing the blocked roads, that’s why there is shooting all over the city.”
Heavy gunfire started around 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and could be heard until the lateafternoon, a Reuters witness said.
Local police spokesman Nasson Murara said officers had cleared the barricades and made about 60 arrests. “We have just got the situation under control after a very tense day.”
At least one protester was seriously injured by gunshot, youth activist group LUCHA said, adding that protests also took place in the provincial capital Goma. The casualty count could not be independently confirmed.
“We only demand two things: for MONUSCO to leave and for the Congolese government to take its responsibility so that we can have peace,” said LUCHA member Clovis Mutsova.
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. It has more than 12,000 troops deployed, most in the vast central African country’s mineral-rich east, where killings more than doubled last year.