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05 Nov 2007 09:56
Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu province opened fire on refugees during a violent protest over food distributions on Monday, killing a child and wounding 11 civilians, a local official said.
Hundreds of villagers driven from their homes three weeks ago by fighting between government soldiers and rebels had erected barricades in the town of Kiwanja, 60km north of the provincial capital, Goma, around dawn.
They surrounded a local military base for the DRC’s United Nations peacekeeping mission, hurling stones and injuring 17 peacekeepers, before police intervened and fired into the crowd.
“There are 11 wounded and one dead, a six-year-old child,” Dominique Bofondo, the administrator of Rutshuru territory where Kiwanja is located, told Reuters.
“They had been here for three weeks now without any [humanitarian] assistance. They were demanding food,” he said.
Bofondo said four police officers were also injured.
The DRC’s peacekeeping mission (Monuc), which is mandated to use deadly force to protect civilians, said its soldiers had not used their weapons.
Fighting between the army, Tutsi-dominated insurgents, Rwandan Hutu rebels, and local militia has caused more than 370 000 Congolese to flee since the beginning of the year.
Fighters loyal to renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda abandoned a January peace deal in late August, withdrawing from special mixed army brigades and sparking open conflict with government forces.
Aid agencies are struggling to cope with a growing humanitarian crisis, which has seen camps for refugees from the violence balloon in size since August.
Thousands of villagers fled to Kiwanja and nearby Rutshuru town last month, when clashes between Nkunda loyalists, the army, and local Mai Mai militia erupted around Bunagana, a town on the DRC’s border with Uganda.
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