UNITED NATIONS — At least 14 United Nations peacekeepers have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, signaling further potential instability in one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises and representing a serious blow to U.N. operations in the strife-torn country. An additional 53 people were wounded in the attack, which U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Friday was the worst in the organization’s recent history.
The slain peacekeepers were Tanzanian and operating in the province of North Kivu, as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission’s work protecting civilians, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, and Ian Sinclair, director of the United Nations Operations and Crisis Centre, told reporters at the U.N. Headquarters Friday afternoon.
The alleged attackers are an armed militia group called the Allied Democratic Forces, who have recently been “stepping up activities” in North Kivu, Lacroix explained. The attack occurred over the course of three hours on a road that leads to Uganda. Five soldiers with the DRC’s armed forces were also killed in the incident, which occurred Thursday at dusk.
The U.N. described the ADF, which has ties to Uganda, as an extremist group that is focused on the exploitation of the country’s illegal resources. “MONUSCO and nation forces as well have been increasing their operations to protect civilians,” Lacroix said. “We are disturbing this group. They don’t want us there and these attacks are a response by ADF elements, we cannot confirm it fully, to our increasingly robust posture in the region.”
It is the third attack in recent months in this area, said the U.N. officials, who noted that the information on the peacekeepers is likely to be updated as more details roll in.
The attack on MONUSCO — the U.N.’s most expensive and largest peacekeeping mission, with more than 21,000 personnel — comes as the humanitarian and internal displacement crisis continues to weigh heavily on the DRC. The country’s approximate 1.7 million internally displaced people this past year outpaced the number of people displaced in other major humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Ongoing armed conflict and political instability has pushed 4.1 million people in the DRC to become internally displaced, according to U.N. figures, making it the largest displacement crisis in Africa.
Additionally, approximately 7.7 million people are living with food insecurity, requiring an unprecedented — and underfunded — level of aid, as World Food Programme country director told Devex this past week. The U.N. sought $812 million for 2017, but has received less than $390 million. It anticipates than 2018 will prove to be a more challenging year for people in need of assistance.
Meanwhile, while the country is scheduled to hold postponed presidential elections in December, following President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down in 2016, civil society advocates and academics have questioned if and how the electoral process can progress.
Lacroix and Sinclair on Thursday called it a “very sad day for the United Nations,” and called on the authorities of the DRC to take the necessary measures and properly investigate the attack.
Read more Devex coverage on the Democratic Republic of Congo.