The United Nations said that three of its peacekeepers were killed in ongoing anti-U.N. protests that turned violent in eastern Congo on Tuesday, while several civilians were also killed in the violence.
"At the MONUSCO Butembo base today, violent attackers snatched weapons from Congolese police and fired upon our uniformed personnel," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
MONUSCO is the acronym for the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Protesters in Butembo, in the eastern province of North Kivu, accuse the U.N. of having failed to protect them from an escalation of violence from armed groups.
"Our quick reaction forces are on high alert and have been advised to exercise maximum restraint, using tear gas to disperse protesters and only firing warning shots when U.N. personnel or property are under attack," Haq said. "Some assistance to protect facilities is being received from the Congolese armed forces."
He said one military peacekeeper and two U.N. police were killed, and another was injured.
India's external affairs minister said on Twitter that two Indian peacekeepers were among the dead.
A Moroccan peacekeeper was also identified among those killed, according to multiple wire news outlets.
Diplomats said that India, which is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has requested a closed meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the escalating violence.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix is in Mali this week and Haq said he would continue on to the DRC in light of the situation.
In North Kivu's capital city of Goma, angry protesters tried to breach the U.N. Development Program's offices.
"Earlier today, a mob tried to enter the premises of the UNDP compound in Goma but were repelled by security guards," he said.
"Hundreds of assailants have again attacked our bases in Goma as well as other parts of North Kivu province, fueled by hostile remarks and threats made by individuals and groups against the U.N., particularly on social media," Haq said. "Mobs are throwing stones and petrol bombs, breaking into bases, looting and vandalizing, and setting facilities on fire."
DRC government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter that at least five civilians had been killed and 50 injured in violence in both cities.
It was the second day of anti-U.N. protests that turned violent. On Monday, demonstrators also targeted MONUSCO bases.
"In Goma, they forcibly entered and looted U.N. facilities, while also throwing stones, setting tires on fire, and creating roadblocks," Haq told reporters on Monday. "Peacekeepers were forced to push back protesters by firing tear gas and warning shots to protect personnel, the U.N. hospital, and other vital infrastructure."
He said there was also a similar protest at the U.N. base in Nyamilima, about 38 kilometers north-east of Rutshuru.
"Several peacekeepers there reportedly suffered minor injuries," he said.
MONUSCO is one of the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping operations, with more than 16,000 uniformed personnel in the DRC's east. The U.N. has warned that the M23 rebel group, which was defeated by the Congolese army and special MONUSCO forces in 2013, had started to re-emerge in November 2021 and is well-armed and equipped.