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UN Firefighters Under Threat in DRC

The fire security unit of the U.N. stabilization mission, MONUSCO, is shown with its fire truck in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sept. 2, 2016.

U.N. firefighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo have repeatedly come under attack this year while trying to respond to house fires in the eastern city of Goma.

The U.N. mission MONUSCO is not responsible for extinguishing fires except at its own installations, but in the absence of other emergency services it is often the first number that victims call. But MONUSCO firemen say police are not providing the security they need to respond rapidly.

"In 2015, my unit and myself, we were threatened at five fires," said Ivan Miltchev, who heads MONUSCO's fire security unit in Goma. "In 2016, we were threatened at six fires. I was threatened with a machete. Stones were thrown at my people; and one of my people was injured by a thrown stone."

Miltchev has repeatedly called for the local authorities to provide security at fire scenes.

"The chief of police in Goma called us to respond to a local fire. When I asked him 'Is it secure and safe if we respond?' his answer was 'No, I cannot provide you with security,'" Miltchev said, adding that local police sometimes "loot and steal from the fire scene."

Another chief, Modeste Bahati, said the MONUSCO fire team's arrival at a blaze is often delayed, which sparks anger on the scene.

As for the police, Bahati said they liable to be stoned along with the MONUSCO firefighters. The police squads, he said, are not big enough to control the angry crowds.

When asked about the slow response time, Miltchev responded that he and his team are "not Goma fire department. We are supposed to provide help to the local fire department, but I do not see them on the fire scene."

Of the two water trucks and one fireman's truck belonging to the municipal fire service that are outside Goma's town hall, two of the vehicles have shattered windscreens.

Miltchev says the situation is somewhat better in the capital, Kinshasa, but in other major towns such as Bukavu, Kisangani or Bunia, there is either no municipal fire engine, or only one.

"And, by the way, I managed to find some pictures from 1956," he said. "A local fire department was existing in Kisangani, well equipped. Why is it not existing now?"

VOA requested comment from the town hall, but was told the person authorized to speak was not immediately available.