The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo confirmed Friday that at least 13 small scale miners were killed this week during a nighttime clash over diamonds in the south of the country. The violence is the latest between gangs of miners who break into state-owned mines in Mbuji Mayi at night to steal diamonds.
Each night in the southern Congolese town of Mbuji Mayi, small scale diamond miners, many of whom are former policemen and soldiers, make their way into the state-owned mines and steal as many diamonds as they can.
There, they have to avoid mine security workers as well as other gangs of miners, many of which are armed. But clashes are regular and they frequently end in the miners - who are known as suicidaires for their daring - getting killed. On Friday, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, often the only independent source of information in Congo, confirmed that at least 13 people were killed in one such clash Monday.
Local residents and aid workers in the town, over 1,000 kilometers from the capital, say reports vary wildly, with some saying as many as 80 people were killed.
Police sources in the town refused to comment on the incident. But a spokesman for the United Nations said the mission was continuing its investigation into what had happened and would be visiting the site on Friday.
After a decade of conflict and chaos in the mineral rich but war-torn country, hundreds of thousands of Congolese have resorted to small-scale mining to make a living.
And many have found their way to Mbuji Mayi, a town that sits in the diamond rich south and is now home to nearly three million people, a large majority of whom lack the most basic services such as electricity and running water.
MIBA, Congo's state diamond mining company, has been criticized in the past for its heavy handed treatment of miners that try and steal diamonds. But the United Nations said MIBA security officials did not appear to be involved in the latest incident.