Democratic Republic of Congo

DR Congo decrees ‘state of siege’ in two eastern provinces as violence worsens

A soldier from the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) takes part in a foot patrol  in the village of Manzalaho near Beni on February 18, 2020, following an attack allegedly perpetrated by members of the ADF rebel group.
A soldier from the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) takes part in a foot patrol in the village of Manzalaho near Beni on February 18, 2020, following an attack allegedly perpetrated by members of the ADF rebel group. © AFP - ALEXIS HUGUET

The Democratic Republic of Congo has announced a "state of siege" in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the east of the country following an unprecedented wave of protests against insecurity and civilian massacres by armed groups.

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"Taking into account the gravity of the situation... the president informed the cabinet of his decision to proclaim a state of siege in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri," government spokesperson Patrick Muyaya said late Friday.

He said details of what the measure would entail would be released publicly in the next few hours.

Under DRC's constitution, the president can declare either a state of emergency or a state of siege "if severe circumstances immediately threaten the independence or integrity of the national territory, or if they interrupt the regular functioning of institutions".

On Thursday, President Felix Tshisekedi said he was preparing "radical measures" to deal with the security situation in the east of the country.

It came after the prime minister suggested on Monday that a state of emergency might be declared in the east, "replacing the civil administration with a military administration".

Eradicating the ADF

An estimated 122 armed groups of varying sizes operate in mineral-rich eastern DRC, many of which are a legacy of regional wars in the 1990s.

Tshisekedi, currently head of the African Union, was in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Chad. He took the opportunity to ask France for help in "eradicating" the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group from the Beni region in North Kivu.

The ADF militia are Ugandan Islamist fighters who have made their base in eastern DRC since 1995.

Branded a jihadist organisation by Tshisekedi and the United States, the ADF has killed more than 1,200 civilians in the Beni area alone since 2017, according to a monitor called the Kivu Security Tracker (KST).

The army has conducted operations against them in the region since October 2019, but has not been able to put a stop to the massacres of civilians.

On Friday, police and soldiers in Beni used teargas and whips to disperse high-school students protesting that failure. The information was confirmed by RFI’s correspondent Patient Ligodi, but police said teargas had been used only against members of pressure groups and motorcycle taxi drivers who attacked them.

“We have been with these children for close to a week. We did not brutalise them and won’t be doing so”, said colonel François Makosa Kabeya, Beni's chief of police.

Several dozen students had been camping outside the town hall over the past week, demanding the departure of the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO and for Tshisekedi to visit the troubled region.

In February the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) warned that a worrying increase of violations carried out by army and security forces in the country, the majority in th east of the country, including North Kivu, could constitute crimes against humanity.

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