The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has called on the authorities to reinforce protection for the media following the murders of a journalist and local government official in the strife-torn eastern region of the vast country.
“The past week was marked by new assassinations that appear to be deliberately targeted, such as the assassination of an independent photo reporter in Goma, as well as the killing of a local official in Nyamilima village in Rutshuru,” mission spokesperson Kemal Saiki told a weekly press briefing.
The mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, “condemned to the full the cowardly assassination” of independent photo reporter Patrick Kikuku Wilungala in Goma, North Kivu province, on the night of 9/10 August by an unidentified armed man a few metres from his home.
“MONUC’s human rights division will spare no effort in investigating this murder, and will do all within its means to ensure that the perpetrators are brought before justice.”
The assassination followed the June murder, also by armed men, of Radio Okapi journalist Serge Maheshe in Bukavu in South Kivu province. The trial of those charged is currently underway.
MONUC reiterated its appeal to the Congolese authorities to do all within their power to allow media representatives to work freely, without hindrance or intimidation.
The local official killed in Rutshuru on 13 August during an attack on Nyamilima village and its army positions by a group believed to be ethnic Hutu combatants, with much subsequent looting, was the last official left in the village as his colleagues had left some months before due to threats and intimidation. MONUC sent a rapid reaction force to the village to ensure no civilians would be trapped in the fighting.
The force found the body of the official, named Muzana, as well as that of a 12-year-old girl, both of whom had been visibly targeted by the assailants.
MONUC reiterated its concern over continuing human rights violations and attacks on civilians, in particular by the various rebel groups and security forces in North Kivu. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 640,000 people were driven from their homes by fighting in North and South Kivu provinces in June and July.
Last week the Security Council expressed particular concern over the situation in the two the provinces and the Ituri district, where militia groups remain active and help to “perpetuate a climate of insecurity in the whole region.”
MONUC has overseen the DRC’s transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease, widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II, to gradual stabilization, culminating in the first democratic elections in over four decades last year, the largest and most complex polls the UN has ever helped to organize.