Ebola outreach work halted as DR Congo attack toll hits 21

Aid groups say they have been forced to halt Ebola prevention activities due to violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s restive east over the weekend that killed 21 people.

The bloodshed occurred on Saturday in Beni, a flashpoint city in North Kivu region. The Congolese army has blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a notorious rebel militia.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said it, and other aid agencies, have been forced to temporarily suspend activities in Beni because of the attack.

“This points to an increasingly worrisome security situation across the country,” the group said in a statement on Monday, adding that it had to halt activities due to intensifying and frequent clashes in Djugu territory in the northern province of Ituri, and Fizi in South Kivu over the last two weeks. 

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“These suspensions have disrupted aid to thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection,” the NRC statement added.

Stephen Lamin, area manager of the NRC, said it was a “worst-case scenario”. The group provides food, household items, education and legal counselling in the region.

The latest Ebola outbreak in Congo’s east has infected at least 118 people, 69 of those who have died, according to Congo’s health ministry.

Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga claimed the health staff temporarily suspended field activities that required home visits, and that “all pillars of the response remain fully operational”.

“Despite the unfortunate events of the last few days, the Ministry of Health remains fully committed,” he said, adding that health centres, including Beni Ebola Treatment Center, remained open.

Elections threatened

Witnesses said Saturday’s violence began in the Beni city centre in the late afternoon with the attackers using guns and machetes.

An initial army estimate put the death toll at 18, including four soldiers, but later raised it to 21.

On Monday morning, many shops, schools and businesses in Beni remained closed in protest, while an opposition lawmaker called for “a rapid assessment of the army’s operational effectiveness” ahead of December elections.

“The front line is no longer in the Virunga National Park and is now in Beni, which poses a real danger for the holding of safe elections on December 23,” said Anselme Mwaka, an opposition MP from the Union for the Congolese Nation.

Since January, Congolese troops have been engaged in a military operation against the ADF, but have not yet managed to stop the bloodshed in and around Beni.

The ADF is one of a number of armed groups that hold territory in the eastern DR Congo and are battling for control of the region’s rich mineral resources. 

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