Clashes between police and militiamen in the troubled eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left seven people, including a South African peacekeeper and a police officer, dead. On Monday, militiamen attacked a prison near the city of Butembo in the eastern province of North Kivu. “At around 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), the assailants, who were likely Mai-Mai fighters, launched an attack against the prison and other places,” said Felix-Prosper Basse, the spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping force.
Police said five rebels had been killed in the fighting and two others had been captured. DR Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and has left over 5.5 million people dead. Dozens of armed groups have been active in the eastern DR Congo ever since and the Congolese army, joined by UN troops, is on the offensive against rebel groups.
The rebels are also accused of carrying out attacks in DR Congo and committing serious human rights violations, including recruiting child soldiers and rape. The development comes amid escalating tensions across the African country as President Joseph Kabila’s mandate runs out on December 20. He is barred by constitution from standing for a third term but the opposition is accusing Kabila of manipulating the electoral system to stay in power.
Kabila has ruled the mineral-rich country since 2001, when his father was assassinated. Under the constitution, he should relinquish power on December 20, but he allegedly seeks ways, including pushing back the elections, to extend his presidency. In September, a wave of deadly clashes pitting the police against demonstrators rocked Kinshasa as the opposition demanded Kabila’s resignation. Over 50 civilians were killed in the clashes and dozens more were injured.