At least 14 civilians were killed on Saturday in a six-hour attack by rebels on the town of Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local officials told Reuters, warning the unrest may hamper efforts to quash an Ebola epidemic in the area.
The latest outbreak of the deadly disease has been focused in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which have been a tinder box of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s.
Militants believed to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan Islamist group active in eastern Congo, clashed with Congolese troops in Beni, a town of several hundred thousand people, local civil society leader Kizito Bin Hangi said by telephone.
“Beni is ungovernable this morning. Several protests have been declared in the town where the people express their anger with consternation,” he said.
In addition to the known fatalities, dozens of civilians were wounded as they fled the violence, which broke out in the early hours of Saturday evening and lasted until midnight, Bin Hangi added.
A spokesman for the army declined immediate comment.
The attack underscores the challenges the government and health organizations face in tackling Ebola in an area where years of instability has undermined locals’ confidence in the authorities.
The violence “will have a considerable impact on the whole response to Ebola,” a local public health official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“The general hospital which houses one of the Ebola treatment centers was the focus of angry protests this morning.
This is a normal reaction for a community that is bereaved for the umpteenth time,” the official said.
The latest Ebola outbreak, which causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhea, is believed to have killed 99 people since July and infected another 48.