BUJUMBURA, Burundi >> At least 36 Burundian refugees have been killed in clashes with Congolese security forces who allegedly fired indiscriminately at protesters, the U.N. envoy to Congo said today.
Maman Sidikou said he was “deeply shocked” at the violence. Another 117 people were wounded and one Congolese officer was killed, he said in a statement. Thirty-nine gravely wounded Burundian refugees were evacuated by helicopter to the city of Bukavu, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo said.
Friday’s clashes erupted in Kamanyola in Congo’s South Kivu province when Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers protested the expulsion of four of their countrymen from Congo, Sidikou said, citing “credible reports” received by the peacekeeping mission. The death of the Congolese army officer led to “the escalation of violence.”
The U.N. envoy called for a swift investigation and urged Congo’s security forces to use force as a last resort.
Congo’s government says it is opening an investigation to establish the facts and true identity of the “supposed refugees,” spokesman Lambert Mende said.
“We do not yet understand how the people who are being called refugees were also shooting at Congolese soldiers,” Mende said. “No person who is a beneficiary of this (refugee) status is supposed to have an assault rifle.”
Roughly 44,000 refugees from Burundi are sheltering in Congo. Many fled political violence at home in 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully pursued a disputed third term amid deadly protests.
Of the people killed in Friday’s clashes, 15 were women, the commander of the Pakistani battalion of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Waquara Yunusi, told The Associated Press.
The Congolese government, the U.N refugee agency and the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo “have deployed teams on site to shed light on everything that happened,” said the coordinator of the U.N. Communications Group in Congo, Florence Marchal.
Burundi’s foreign minister, Alain Aime Nyamitwe, on Twitter asked Congo and U.N. officials for an explanation of the shootings.
Residents said the killings occurred after some Burundian refugees went to the bureau of intelligence in Kamanyola to inquire about four detained refugees. Congolese soldiers responded with gunfire when some refugees hurled stones, said refugee Aline Nduwarugira.
It was not immediately clear why the four refugees had been detained.
Another witnesses, Alfred Rukungo, said Congolese soldiers continued shooting into the crowd even after some refugees were wounded.