The acting head of the United Nations mission in eastern Congo said Wednesday that it would carry out a joint investigation with national police into the shooting deaths of three peacekeepers and a dozen Congolese civilians during anti-U.N. protests this week.
“As I said yesterday to the national authorities, we do not have any evidence that MONUSCO troops were firing at civilians,” the deputy chief of the mission Khassim Diagne told reporters, using the French acronym for the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Reuters reported Tuesday that its reporter saw peacekeepers shoot dead two protesters as people threw rocks, vandalized and burned the U.N. compound in Goma, the provincial capital of Congo’s North Kivu province.
Diagne said the U.N. has the forensics capability to trace its bullets and is flying in a doctor from Kinshasa to conduct autopsies and extract the bullets for investigation.
MONUSCO is one of the U.N.’s biggest peacekeeping missions, with more than 16,000 troops and police in the eastern DRC.
North Kivu has been volatile for years but has seen a recent escalation of violence from armed groups, particularly the resurgent M23 rebels. Hundreds of angry protesters who accuse the U.N. of failing to protect them stormed U.N. compounds in Goma and Butembo earlier this week. Some threw stones and petrol bombs, broke into bases, looted and vandalized, and set fires. The deaths occurred when the protests turned violent.
Diagne said the demonstrators had been infiltrated by criminal elements who were focused on looting.
“Clearly they were trying to get away with a lot of equipment,” he said of images of people stealing sacks of rice, dry goods and other items.
He said the situation had cooled on Wednesday, but the mission remains vigilant.
Congolese security forces have reinforced the peacekeepers, and Diagne said that
North Kivu’s governor issued a strong statement late Tuesday banning demonstrations.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who is currently in Mali, will travel to Kinshasa on Friday to meet with officials and then continue to Goma.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also strongly condemned the violence.
The U.N. Security Council met late Tuesday at the request of India, who lost two peacekeepers in the violence, for a private briefing on the events.
The U.N. has warned that the M23 rebel group, which was defeated by the Congolese army and special MONUSCO forces in 2013, started to re-emerge in November of last year and is well armed and equipped.