Calm has returned to the town of Moba in Katanga Province, southern Democratic Republic of Congo, a day after demonstrators assaulted and wounded four United Nations military observers and destroyed several offices belonging to the UN and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), an official said.
"After a day of looting, stone-throwing and break-ins into offices, the town is now calm and the last group of UN staff being evacuated is at the airport," Eusebe Hounsokou, the head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in DRC, said on 2 August from Lubumbashi, the provincial capital.
He said the demonstrators claimed the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) was preparing to facilitate the return of a group of Congolese Tutsi refugees, known as Banyamulenge, who fled violence in the country in the late-1990s.
Hounsokou said there had been no plans to repatriate the Banyamulenge.
The protesters broke into and plundered offices belonging to MONUC, UNHCR, and several NGOs in Moba, 600km east of Lubumbashi.
"They beat up MONUC military observers who were in the office," Maj Gabriel de Brosses, the mission's military spokesman, said in Kinshasa on 1 August.
He said the wounded military observers were taken to a hospital in the town and later evacuated by MONUC's Bangladeshi troops, which were deployed in the town after the violence.
De Brosses said 30 civilian MONUC members of staff had been evacuated after the demonstration.
“The news of the repatriation of Banyamulenge refugees did not please the residents as the Banyamulenge had killed a traditional chief of an indigenous group during the war in 1998,” Perpetue Kapindo Tundwa, the Moba Member of Parliament, told IRIN.
Reports of gunfire
Moba residents said there was gunfire as the national army, the Forces Armées de la Republic Democratic du Congo (FARDC), and MONUC troops dispersed the demonstrators.
However, De Brosses said: “[MONUC military observers] could not shoot as they do not possess arms. The FARDC, which had just been deployed in the field, and had evacuated the four observers, had to shoot.”
Tundwa said the protesters also set a MONUC vehicle ablaze.
Humanitarian sources, who wished to remain anonymous, said FARDC prevented the angry crowd from attacking other UN agencies.
Residents claimed the demonstrators were in their thousands, but MONUC estimated the group at less than 1,000.
“A MONUC Bangladeshi battalion has been deployed [in Moba] and presently has the situation under control,” De Brosses said.
Meanwhile, Hounsokou said a planned tour of Moba town by the Zambian ambassador to the UN, Love Mtesa, who is on a week's tour of Zambia and the DRC, was postponed following the demonstration. He is expected on 3 August in Lubumbashi.
The Banyamulenge refugees are among tens of thousands Congolese refugees who fled war in the country in the 1990s and have been living in neighbouring countries. They were at one time stripped of their Congolese citizenship due to links with Rwanda.
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