Burundian militiamen apparently reinforced the soldiers of Congo’s government army in the massacre. UN blue helmets in the vicinity remained inactive.
Recovery of the dead in Kamanyola, Saturday Photo: Uvira Online
Photos show a wide street full of bodies, the dead neatly lined up, covered with colorful cloths. The head of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco), whose soldiers have witnessed much horror, expressed "deep shock" in a statement. On Friday, a massacre of Burundian refugees occurred in the small eastern Congolese town of Kamanyola on the border with Burundi.
36 dead, 117 to 124 injured is the tally as of Sunday noon. The perpetrators were at least partly Congolese soldiers.
The trigger was the arrest of four refugees on Thursday night. Congolese officials said they were found with machetes and taken to intelligence offices to initiate their expulsion. On Friday, other refugees demonstrated for their release. Soldiers opened fire.
Congo’s government spokesman says protesters held weapons and lynched an officer. South Kivu province’s Interior Ministry says soldiers fired into the air but were "overwhelmed" by protesters throwing stones and opened fire in self-defense.
Refugees themselves said afterwards they were not carrying weapons but Bibles. "I saw people falling to the ground, men and women and children," one eyewitness told reporters.
Many Burundian sources claim that among the killers were members of the youth militia "Imbonerakure" of Burundi’s ruling party: They would have spoken the Burundian language Kirundi among themselves, according to the independent journalists’ network "SOS Medias Burundi." Burundi’s banned opposition party MSD (Movement for Solidarity and Democracy) speaks of "complicity between Congo security agents with Burundi’s intelligence service."
Kamanyola is an important border trading post in the Congo-Rwanda-Burundi tri-border area, and the surrounding countryside has been considered a retreat for armed groups for decades.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Burundian refugees live in Kamanyola in 2005, most of whom arrived in 2015, when the current crisis in Burundi was at its peak. UNHCR counts about 407,000 Burundian refugees abroad, including nearly 44,000 in Congo.
A local Congolese organization reports to the taz that for months "a political propaganda" in South Kivu has been equating the refugees "with Burundian armed groups.
According to the information, many refugees in Kamanyola belong to a Catholic sect that makes a name for itself with Marian apparitions and gloomy prophecies against the Burundian regime. The followers of the "prophetess" Eusebie Ngendakumana, known as Zebiya, have been prosecuted for sedition in Burundi since 2013.
2800 of them are believed to have fled to Congo, most to Kamanyola. Congo’s authorities are looking for the sect leaders, according to the report.
But that does not explain the massacre. When the soldiers fired, many refugees ran to the nearby UN base for shelter, because they were being "hunted like animals," one of them explained.
The UN blue helmets from Pakistan did not intervene, although their base is only a few hundred meters away. Only on Saturday did they come and collect the dead.