Congo's players and coach Sébastien Desabre protested before their team's Africa Cup of Nations semifinal on Wednesday to spotlight the armed violence taking place in the east of their country.
The players and French coach Desabre all held their right hands in front of their mouths and two fingers to their temples during a portion of Congo's national anthem. The players also wore black armbands for the semifinal against host nation Ivory Coast.
"It was a message to show support to the victims, to notify (people) that there are indeed things happening in the east and that it is necessary to shed light on it. People are disappointed about that, too," Desabre said after his team's 1-0 loss.
"A national football team is a driving force for a nation. And this evening, it was also our duty to be able to inform what is happening behind the scenes," Desabre said.
Captain Chancel Mbemba and forward Cédric Bakambu had already attempted to bring more attention to the issue on social media on Monday, while it was also mentioned briefly at the pre-game press conference on Tuesday.
Eastern Congo has struggled with armed violence for decades as more than 120 groups fight for power, land and valuable mineral resources, while others try to defend their communities. The armed groups have long waged campaigns of violence in the mineral-rich region and have been accused of mass killings.
The conflict spiked in late 2021 when a rebel group called M23 resurfaced and initiated attacks to seize territory. The United Nations and human rights groups say the resurgent group has support from neighboring Rwanda, though that country denies it.