The attack took place in Beni. killing at least 14 civilians and four soldiers. Local public health officials warned the unrest will have a "considerable impact" on the Ebola outbreak.

Medical team wear protective suits as they prepare to administer Ebola patient care at The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) treatment centre in Beni, North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. September 6, 2018.
Medical team wear protective suits as they prepare to administer Ebola patient care at The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) treatment centre in Beni, North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. September 6, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

At least 14 civilians and four soldiers were killed on Saturday in a six-hour attack by rebels on the town of Beni in eastern Congo, the army and local officials said, warning the unrest could 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 tinderbox of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s. (Read more on DRC's Ebola outbreak here)

"The general hospital which houses one of the Ebola treatment centres was the focus of angry protests this morning. This is a normal reaction for a community that is bereaved for the umpteenth time," a local public health official said on condition of anonymity.

'Beni is ungovernable'

Militants believed to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan militant 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.

Ebola challenge

The attack underscores the challenges the government and health organisations 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," the public health official said.

The latest Ebola outbreak, which causes haemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, is believed to have killed 99 people since July and infected another 48.

Source: Reuters