Soldiers shot dead 36 Burundian refugees in clashes in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, officials said Saturday, prompting shock, outrage and a demand for answers from the United Nations.
A Burundian refugee said that more than 30 had been killed and at least 100 wounded in the violence in Kamanyola, in the eastern province of South Kivu, on Friday.
Maman Sidikou, the head of MONUSCO, the UN's peacekeeping mission in the country, said in a statement Saturday that at least 36 refugees had been reported killed. He also stressed that defense and security forces should use force "only as a last resort" and in accordance with international norms, and urged "the authorities to promptly open criminal investigations".
Rehema Kankindi (R), a widow who fled deadly political unrest in Burundi in 2015, speaks with a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worker near her home in Uvira, DR Congo.
Congolese Interior Ministry official Josue Boji said the clashes began on Wednesday night after a group of refugees overran a jail run by the country's domestic intelligence agency to demand the release of four Burundians who had been arrested for expulsion.
Boji, who had put the toll at 34 dead earlier – including a Congolese soldier – said the troops tried to disperse the refugees by "firing in the air but were overwhelmed" when the group responded by throwing stones. At least 124 refugees were also wounded.
The UN refugee agency also called for an investigation of "this tragic incident," saying in a statement that it was "in shock and saddened." The agency said it had sent teams to Kamanyola, including medical staff to see to those injured.
A Burundian refugee told AFP: "I saw people falling down, men, women and children who were completely unarmed."
Burundi's Foreign Minister, Alain-Aime Nyamitwe, on Twitter described the incident as a "shooting" and said "explanations are needed."
Tens of thousands of Burundians have fled to the eastern DR Congo to escape a wave of violence that unfurled in 2015 after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a fiercely contested third term in office.
Overall, the violence in Burundi has claimed between 500 and 2,000 lives, according to differing tolls provided by the UN or NGOs and more than 400,000 Burundians have fled abroad. Around 36,000 are in DR Congo, mainly in the overcrowded camp of Lusenda in the east, or several transit camps.