A stray bullet killed a demonstrator at a protest in eastern DR Congo on Friday over perceived UN failures to stem massacres by armed groups in the troubled region, police said.
“Stones were thrown when police moved in to remove a barricade. Unfortunately, a demonstrator was hit by a stray bullet and died,” said Butembo city police chief Jean-Paul Ngoma.
He did not say who fired the round.
Leon Tsongo, of the Parlement Debout (“Parliament, Rise”) campaign group, said “the policeman who shot our comrade” was just six metres (20 feet) away.
“His only wrong was to demand that MONUSCO (the UN force) leave our city because its troops do absolutely nothing to protect the public from the massacres.
“We will no longer back down until the last contingent has left” he warned.
Butembo mayor Sylvain Mbusa Kanyamanda told AFP he had “ordered the arrest of the suspect, a policeman identified by witnesses, as well as all the other police nearby for the needs of the inquiry”.
Western diplomatic posts and the European Union delegation issued a joint statement on Friday in support of MONUSCO’s mission “to protect the civilian population and wipe out the threat posed by armed groups”.
They also backed the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully “in order to make your voice heard”.
Protests and strikes have erupted in Butembo, Beni, and Oicha in eastern DR Congo after a string of massacres by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the bloodiest of an estimated 122 armed groups that roam the region.
The ADF, a historically Ugandan Islamist group that holed up in eastern DRC in the 1990s, is linked to the so-called Islamic State, the United States said in March.
Attacks by armed groups are frequent in the Beni area and five people died in an ambush against road hauliers on Friday, their trade union said.
According to the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), an NGO that monitors violence in the DRC’s east, 1,840 civilians have been killed by the ADF since April 2017.
On March 19, the UN said a surge of ADF attacks since the start of the year had claimed nearly 200 lives and forced 40,000 people to flee their homes.
The toll does not include 25 villagers massacred by the suspected militia on March 30.