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Residents Start Tax Strike in Terrorized Eastern DRC Town

Families queue at a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) centre for Burundi refugees in Uvira to receive food ration and clothing in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) May 20, 2015.

Residents of Beni, a town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, are on a tax strike following a series of massacres in the area. Local activists have called for the strike to go on until security is restored.

Civil society groups in Beni territory say the death toll from killings and massacres in the area since last October is now well more than 300.

The United Nations believes Ugandan Islamist ADF rebels are mainly responsible for these atrocities. Government troops and U.N. peacekeepers have been engaged in heavy fighting against the ADF, suffering casualties, but inflicting heavy losses on the rebels.

The slaughter of 20 people in a suburb of Beni two weeks ago was the signal for another wave of protests. Citizens held demonstrations and stayed away from work for a week.

Civil disobedience

The president of civil society groups in Beni town, Gilbert Kambale, then announced a change of tactics. He said for humanitarian reasons people should go back to work, as they could not afford not to, and instead they should show their discontent by refusing to pay taxes.

A spokesman for civil society in North Kivu province, Djento Maundu, told VOA the tax strike is nearly a week old and is continuing.

He said the taxes that are not being paid are stallholder fees, and he said some larger taxes paid by businesses to the DGI - the general tax office. He said some better off individuals in Beni, who are more dependent on the government are still paying taxes to the DGI, but many other business people are not.

A local journalist in Beni told VOA that most of the big annual taxes had already been paid for this year and so far no one has been arrested for refusing to pay tax.

Fear reigns

Maundu said the civil society activists who called this protest have been threatened, in anonymous phone calls and even directly in meetings, and he said he and his colleagues are very worried about this.

Gilbert Kambale told VOA threats have included death threats against himself and six of his colleagues. He has asked the authorities to investigate the threats, he said, but without result.

Meanwhile, as fear grips the area the U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports 3,700 families have fled their homes in the past three weeks, most taking refuge in Beni and nearby towns.

Some aid organizations have suspended their activities in the high risk areas of Oicha and Eringeti north of Beni, but the U.N. office says some aid workers are now going back to those areas.