DRC rebels kill 13, abduct a dozen children in Ebola epicentre

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference after a meeting to decide whether DR Congo’s Ebola epidemic is a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ on October 17, 2018 in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Congolese rebels have killed 13 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack at the centre of the latest deadly Ebola outbreak, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s military said.

The Allied Democratic Forces rebels attacked Congolese army positions and several neighbourhoods of Beni in the DRC from Saturday to yesterday, a senior army official told The Associated Press.

The rebels have killed hundreds of civilians in recent years and are just one of several rebel groups active in the DRC’s far northeast.

Child kidnappings for ransom are a relatively new phenomenon in the North Kivu region, where Beni is located, making exact figures on the issue difficult to find.

At least 215 children were abducted in the province and 34 killed in North Kivu in 2017, according to a child protection group cited by The Guardian.

Angry over this latest attack, Beni residents yesterday morning carried four of the bodies to the town hall, where police dispersed them with tear gas.

Late last month, Ebola outbreak containment efforts had to be suspended for days in Beni after a deadly rebel attack, deeply complicating work to find and track suspected contacts of infected people.

Since then, many of the new confirmed Ebola cases have been reported in Beni as the rate of new cases overall has more than doubled.

This new attack comes as another armed group shot and killed two medical agents with the DRC army, the first time health workers have been killed by rebels in this Ebola outbreak.

It is a “dark day” for everyone fighting the deadly virus, the DRC health minister said late on Saturday.

Mai Mai rebels surged from the forest and opened fire on the unarmed agents with the army’s rapid intervention medical unit at an entrance to Butembo city, the health ministry said.

The daytime attack appeared premeditated, with civilians present left unharmed, the statement said. The medical agents had been placed in “dangerous zones” to assist national border health officials.

Confirmed Ebola cases have now reached 200, including 117 deaths. Aid groups have expressed alarm after the insecurity and sometimes-hostile community resistance led the rate of new cases to more than double this month.