At least 48 civilians and one policeman were killed on Wednesday in Goma in a military operation to prevent a demonstration against the UN in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to an internal document of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) consulted by AFP on Thursday.
According to the document, authenticated by military and intelligence sources, the toll from Wednesday's operation in this violence-ridden region was "48 dead" and "75 wounded" on the demonstrators' side, as well as one policeman killed.
The document states that "some edged weapons (were) seized" and that 168 people were arrested "including (the) guru" Efraimu Bisimwa, of the sect "Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith towards the Nations", organiser of the banned demonstration.
In a statement issued late in the evening, the Kinshasa government put the toll at "43 dead, 56 injured (and) 158 people arrested, including the leader of the sect".
It said it supported "the investigation opened by the military auditor's office (...) so that those responsible can be brought to justice".
In two videos filmed in a district of Goma and widely shared on social networks, soldiers wearing the uniform of an elite unit can be seen throwing around ten lifeless bodies into the back of a military vehicle. Some of the bloody corpses are dragged along the ground.
"The number of victims of the carnage carried out by the army against unarmed civilians demanding the departure of Monusco (the UN mission in the DRC) yesterday (Wednesday) in Goma is close to fifty", the Lutte pour le changement (Lucha), a pro-democracy movement born in Goma and very active in the DRC, had said earlier. "Other bodies are hidden in the military hospital at Camp Katindo", in the centre of the city, added the Lucha movement on X (formerly Twitter).
- Target of discontent -
In a video sent to AFP, one of the leaders of the Lucha movement, Bienvenu Matumo, denounced this "carnage" of "more than 50 civilians".
Another pro-democracy activist, Jack Sinzahera, accused the FARDC of carrying out "an assault on the radio station" of the sect, where they "killed the presenter and her five guests", then "went to the church where they shot 56 people".The two activists demanded independent investigations into the killings."The Congolese security forces shot dead dozens of demonstrators and wounded dozens more", and "arrested several dozen people", said the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) later that evening.
The Congolese military "appear to have fired on a crowd to prevent a demonstration, an extremely brutal and illegal way of enforcing a ban", said Thomas Fessy, senior researcher on the DRC for this American human rights NGO.
HRW also believes that "senior military officials who ordered the use of unlawful lethal force should be suspended, investigated and held accountable in fair and public trials".
These violent events are part of a series of attacks and demonstrations against the UN mission in the DRC, accused of ineffectiveness in the fight against armed groups. In July 2022, in several towns in the provinces of North and South Kivu, demonstrators stormed Monusco facilities. According to the authorities, 36 people, including four peacekeepers, were killed.
At the beginning of August, the United Nations Secretary-General announced in a report to the Security Council that Monusco was "entering its final phase" despite a situation that was "deteriorating sharply".
"Regional tensions have worsened still further", "the humanitarian situation has deteriorated considerably" and "hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forcibly displaced", noted Antonio Guterres.
According to him, Monusco "remains one of the targets of the discontent and frustration of the population, who accuse it of being passive".
The definitive departure of the UN mission has been at the heart of debates on the country's future for several years now. In September 2022, on a visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi said in an interview with France 24 that after the presidential election in December 2023 - when he is standing for re-election - "I believe that there will be no reason for Monusco to stay".
The province of North Kivu, bordering Rwanda and Uganda, is at the heart of the armed violence that has been going on for nearly 30 years in eastern Congo, with repeated rebellions and constant humanitarian tragedies.